Papers make case for access to Skakel arraignment
By J.A. Johnson Jr. - Greenwich Time

If the cramped confines of a Stamford juvenile courtroom cannot accommodate members of both the press and public interested in a high-profile murder arraignment, then the press must be allowed in as the public's surrogate, a group of newspapers claim in a document filed yesterday in state Superior Court.

The supplemental memorandum was filed in response to concerns expressed by Judge Maureen Dennis during a Feb. 8 hearing on the newspapers' motion to be allowed into the arraignment of Martha Moxley murder suspect Michael Skakel.

Skakel was to have been arraigned Feb. 8, but Dennis postponed the proceeding until March 14 so she could give the newspapers' motion proper study before issuing a decision on an unprecedented case.

The arraignment is to be in juvenile court because Skakel was 15 years old when Moxley was slain in Greenwich in 1975. The prosecutor in the case, State's Attorney Jonathan Benedict, has indicated he plans to try to have the case moved to adult court.

The newspapers - Greenwich Time, The (Stamford) Advocate, The Hartford Courant, Newsday and The New York Times - jointly filed their motion on Jan. 3. The motion argued that the newspapers should be allowed to be present for the arraignment because neither Skakel nor Benedict is opposed to media coverage. The motion also stated that media coverage of the arraignment is warranted because of intense public interest in the case. Skakel is a nephew of the late U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy.

During the Feb. 8 motion hearing, Dennis expressed concerns that if she granted the motion, the general public would have to be allowed into the arraignment along with reporters. Seating is an issue because juvenile court is usually held in private in a courtroom big enough to hold only the judge and other necessary court personnel, along with the youthful defendants and their family members or legal guardians.

The Stamford juvenile courtroom is located above a strip of stores on Prospect Street.

"What this motion boils down to is the best solution is to grant access to the press and the public, but if the court cannot do that because of limited space, (Dennis) still has to, under the law, grant limited access to the press as a surrogate for the public," said Stephanie Abrutyn, an attorney for The Times Mirror Co., owner of Greenwich Time, The Advocate, the Courant and Newsday.

Submitted along with the newspapers' supplemental memorandum was a motion by The Associated Press news service to be allowed to join in the original motion.