Judge in Roeder trial ordered to reconsider ban on reporters during jury selection

TOPEKA | The Kansas Supreme Court on Tuesday night ordered the judge in the Scott Roeder murder trial to reconsider his ban on reporters in the courtroom during jury selection.

Four news outlets, including the Kansas City Star, the Associated Press, the Wichita Eagle, and KWCH had asked the court to overturn Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert’s decision last week to ban reporters from jury selection.

Wilbert said he closed the proceedings to accommodate the large jury pool and to avoid creating a “chilling effect” on juror candor. Opening the process “would create a real and present danger to the defendant’s ability to receive a fair trial,” Wilbert wrote in a Jan. 11 order formalizing the ban.

News outlets argued the ban would wrongly keep the public away from the process.

It was unclear what effect the high court’s order would have on the start of jury selection, scheduled for Wednesday. Wilbert has set a meeting for 8 a.m. Wednesday to discuss ways to resolve the dispute and not delay the trial.

The court said Wilbert’s order banning the public was “insufficient,” largely because he issued the order without giving the public or the media the chance to argue against it.

The court ordered Wilbert to reconsider both the ban and his refusal to provide the media with a copy of the blank questionnaire that will be given to members of the jury pool.

“Consideration of these requests necessarily must include evaluation and balancing of the defendant’s right to a public trial, the public’s and media’s rights to access to judicial proceedings and the potential that this particular criminal case may involve questioning of potential jurors that implicates their right to privacy,” the court wrote.

Roeder has confessed to killing abortion provider George Tiller, saying it was necessary to save unborn children.