Free Press for the Special Few

The SE Texas Record Jan. 17, 2009, 4:59am

Since our first edition in 2007, we've heard lots of lawyer complaints.

Some lawyers don't seem to like the concept that someone else--as in average citizen or the press--is watching over their shoulder.

But most lawyers generally accept it, because they know that freedom of the press is a positive thing and it must not be suppressed in Jefferson County.

But when it comes to the First Amendment, it appears Houston plaintiff's lawyer Valorie Davenport may be among the unbelievers.

Her attitude surfaced again this week when she took time out from pressing the substance of her medical malpractice case this week to ask Judge Donald Floyd for a do-over.

Her concern: this newspaper's reporting on the trial is making her look bad.

That's bad to the jury and to the judge as well. The former charge came without evidence; the latter with an interesting theory.

Davenport, who is white, claimed our news stories were making her look disrespectful to a black judge which, she theorized, could doom her prospects with a mostly black jury.

Defense attorney Joel Sprott countered that Davenport had only herself to blame for any negative juror perceptions.

"The jurors have witnessed this (disruptive) behavior from the beginning (of the trial)," Sprott said. "The idea that they get it from the newspaper is laughable."

Our David Yates has reported on lawyer squabbling in Stacy Thompson vs. Dr. James Woodruff since it began in early December. Judge Floyd repeatedly has admonished both sides, even threatening "to hold someone in contempt." The judge also has often told the jurors not to read or watch news of the case.

Davenport's theory seems to be that we ordinary citizens shouldn't be able to see this uglier part of the trial. She apparently believes we should be barred from the courtroom when a judge is reprimanding lawyer behavior. Because we aren't lawyers ourselves, we aren't capable of fairly reporting these "sensitive" issues, she argues.

Right? No, wrong. We cannot think of a worse idea for democracy than suppressing public information about taxpayer-funded courts, if that information might sully the reputation of a wayward lawyer.

When she filed her lawsuit here, Ms. Davenport perhaps figured it wouldn't attract local press attention. We are pleased that it did and so are a growing number of "average citizens."

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