Judge Grants AP’s Request for Cameras at Skakel Hearing

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A Superior Court judge agreed Thursday to allow a video and photo pool at a hearing later this month in Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel’s murder case.

Stamford Superior Court Judge Edward R. Karazin Jr.’s decision, issued in response to a March 20 request by The Associated Press, marks one of few times in recent years that electronic media coverage has been allowed in Connecticut Superior Court proceedings.

Skakel, a nephew of Ethel Kennedy, is seeking a new trial after being convicted in 2002 of killing his 15-year-old neighbor Martha Moxley in Greenwich in 1975. He is serving a prison term of 20 years to life.

Karazin will preside over a non-jury hearing starting April 17 on Skakel’s request for a new trial based on a claim by a man who implicated two friends in Moxley’s death. Those men have invoked their Fifth Amendment rights.

The decision allows the AP to operate a pool of one photographer and one video camera operator. Karazin’s ruling came despite objections from State’s Attorney Jonathan Benedict and Hubert Santos, Skakel’s attorney.

The hearing is expected to last several days.

The judicial branch’s practice book allows the media to broadcast, televise, record and photograph court proceedings if they comply with certain limits, language that Karazin describes as “permissive” and assuming access.

Karazin, a judge for 16 years, said his standard of review was whether the coverage would interfere with the parties’ rights to a fair trial.

“I am satisfied based on the responses from The Associated Press, the Practice Book rules, the high quality of the attorneys and my trial experience that we will have a fair trial,” Karazin wrote Thursday in a letter informing Stamford Superior Court Administrative Judge John F. Kavanewsky Jr. of his decision.

Kavanewsky endorsed Karazin’s decision and plans to confirm it in writing next Tuesday, according to a letter from Karazin to Benedict and Santos.

The judge, attorneys, and other parties involved in the case plan to meet April 12 to discuss details.

Cameras have been rarely allowed in state Superior Court in recent years, although the issue has been pushed by freedom of information advocates and some members of recent task forces to examine judicial branch openness.

The judicial branch does not keep central records on media requests, however it said an informal survey showed that judges have denied requests filed over the past decade by Court TV, the “America’s Most Wanted” television show, the broadcast news magazine “48 Hours” and local newspapers and broadcasters.

However, former Superior Court Judge Beverly J. Hodgson, while she was still on the bench several years ago, granted a request from the Republican-American of Waterbury to have still cameras document a civil case between the municipalities of Waterbury and Washington over the use of water.

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