A Wisconsin court commissioner has told the Janesville Gazette and other media that they can’t report the gender, age or hometown of a fatal shooting suspect and his victim.
The Gazette reports that Walworth County Commissioner Zeke Wiedenfeld’s order “mandates that the suspect be referred to only as ‘a person under the age of 17’ and the victim only as ‘a child victim under the age of 18.’ The order limits the media to one representative attending the juvenile court hearings in the case.”
Bob Dreps, the newspaper’s attorney, points out that the sheriff’s press release gives the victim’s name – he is 11-year-old Eric Gutierrez – and that the boy’s family “even sought publicity about the incident and its effect on them.”
Wiedenfeld initially told the media that they couldn’t report “reactions or emotions of the juvenile or any family member of the juvenile displayed in court,” but he dropped that order after attorney Dreps noted that “reporting these kinds of courtroom events would not, in any way, lead to the identification of the juvenile involved.”
Gazette editor Scott Angus (pictured) says:
The Gazette is a responsible newspaper that for generations has respected the privacy of juveniles accused of crimes as required in state statutes. We have no intention of identifying the juvenile or providing information that would allow readers to identify the juvenile.
To restrict us from reporting information that was previously reported, including information that was included in a press release from the sheriff’s office, serves no purpose other than to confirm that the court has full control of these proceedings and information related to them.
Update — I asked Angus about the case and he tells Romenesko readers: “We attended the hearing and followed the conditions. Our attorney advised that we had two options: Attend and abide by the restrictions at the hearing and going forward; [or] don’t attend.
“We thought it was important to be there and inform the community about what transpired, despite our reservations and the limitations. At this point, our only other option is to fight at the appeals court level. Our attorney, who is the state’s foremost expert on open government issues, said he wasn’t sure we’d win. Judges have considerable authority and autonomy in their courtrooms.
“Given that uncertainty and the cost of continuing the battle, we decided to live with the restrictions and be ready to fight the battle anew in Walworth County when another case with its own circumstances comes along.”