Media group wants Chavez motions open

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A news media coalition is seeking to unseal seven pretrial motions — and to prevent the blanket sealing of any future motions — in the murder case against former Albuquerque police officer Levi Chavez.

Petitioners include the Albuquerque Journal, The Associated Press, Valencia County News-Bulletin, and televisions stations KOAT, KOB and KRQE.

Over objections from prosecutors, state District Judge George P. Eichwald last month granted a request from Chavez’s attorney, David Serna, to seal records related to whether certain evidence should be admitted at the upcoming June trial.

But after a suggestion to do so from Serna, Eichwald went a step further: He ordered that “from now on, until we go to trial, all motions from the defendant and from the state will be sealed.”

Serna had cited possible contamination of the jury pool — an issue news media organizations say can be addressed by questions posed to jurors before they are seated.

Chavez faces charges of murder and evidence tampering. He is accused of shooting his wife, Tera Chavez, once through the mouth with his APD-issued handgun in the couple’s Los Lunas home in 2007 and trying to make it look like a suicide.

This week, attorneys for the media organizations filed a motion to unseal the records Eichwald had shuttered from public view.

Neither Serna nor Eichwald, the attorneys wrote, met the “high constitutional burden that must be overcome” to seal court records. Attorneys cited New Mexico court rules and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

” … Court documents are presumed open and may be sealed only in extreme circumstances after a detailed inquiry by the court,” the motion reads. “Behind this presumption of public access is the basic need for accountability of the courts.”

The media attorneys said in their motion that the public has a “special interest” in the facts of the Chavez case.

“The public’s interest is enhanced by the fact that defendant was a sworn police officer … at the time of the incident, the victim was defendant’s wife, and there have been allegations made concerning possible evidence tampering by other police officers at the scene,” the motion reads.

Chavez was fired from APD after his indictment in April 2012.

Officials have said they will not seek charges against the other APD officers who went to the Chavezes’ home and cut up the bloody sheets Tera Chavez’s body was lying on. Those officers were not disciplined, either.

Serna said in a telephone interview Thursday that Eichwald’s verbal order to seal all future records in the case “may have been overly broad.” He said he plans to file a response to the news media motion that “protects the public’s right to know, the press’ right to investigate and report and my client’s right to a fair trial.”

No date has been set for Eichwald to hear the motion to unseal.