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Judge opens jury selection but keeps documents sealed

Jury selection beginning Monday in Moe Gibbs' second murder trial will be open to the public, but sealed court documents will remain sealed, a judge ruled Friday.

Jury selection beginning Monday in Moe Gibbs' second murder trial will be open to the public, but sealed court documents will remain sealed, a judge ruled Friday.

Southeast Judicial District Judge John Paulson made the ruling about an hour after hearing arguments from Forum Communications Co. asking for more public access to the trial than had been granted in the first trial for Mindy Morgenstern's death.

A jury deadlocked in July over whether Gibbs killed the 22-year-old Valley City State University senior in her apartment on Sept. 13, 2006.

During that trial, Paulson closed the jury selection process to the public and media.

Mike Andrews, attorney for Forum Communications Co., argued Friday that further public access should be granted to the second trial and restrictions should take place rarely, if at all.


The small size of the Burleigh County courtroom the case will be tried in also raises the need for the media's presence and access, he said.

"The media really is sort of the portal for the rest of the public," Andrews said.

He also cited jury selection being open in last summer's federal trial for Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., saying, "We can find a way to do it here."

Barnes County State's Attorney Brad Cruff disagreed, arguing that prospective jurors could be mortified if their confidential information becomes public. Paulson said he will excuse the public and media from certain parts of the selection process.

Forum Communications Co. also unsuccessfully asked Paulson to lift his gag order on those involved in the trial, unseal documents and allow more access to trial exhibits.

Cruff argued that unsealing the documents, which he called part of an ongoing prosecution, could negatively affect his efforts to try the case and Gibbs' right to a fair trial.

Defense attorney Dennis Fisher argued the case was being handled correctly.

"I don't believe we've trampled on anybody's First Amendment rights in this case," he said.


Forum Editor Matthew Von Pinnon said while he believed Paulson's decision regarding jury selection will put the newspaper "in a better position to inform the public than during the last trial, the upheld argument that

related court documents be

sealed because the prosecution views the matter as an ongoing investigation is perplexing.

"The second trial is about to begin," he said. "The investigation should be complete."

Forum Communications Co. owns four daily newspapers in North Dakota, including The Forum, and four North Dakota TV stations, including WDAY.

Paulson also did not lift his June 11 gag order, which prohibits anyone involved in the case from giving an opinion, attitude or judgment outside the courtroom.

The judge also said he would not grant further access to trial exhibits, saying that by allowing cameras in the courtroom he should not have to give further access.

"I think I have authority not to waste my time to provide something," he said.


After Paulson's decision, Andrews said he was pleased with the judge's decision about jury selection.

Also Friday, Paulson closed the courtroom about an hour to discuss "chamber matters."

Motions had been filed in the case regarding potential jurors and the prosecution team's intent to use evidence of sexual assault charges Gibbs faces.

Gibbs' second trial begins Monday with jury selection in Bismarck. The former Barnes County jailer is accused of strangling and cutting the throat of Morgenstern.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Brittany Lawonn at (701) 241-5541 Judge opens jury selection but keeps documents sealed Brittany Lawonn 20071020

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