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FCNP Wins Access to Sealed Gardner Documents

A motion filed on behalf of the Falls Church News-Press to unseal documents in the case of Falls Church resident Michael Gardner, accused of three cases of felony child molestation stemming from incidents last summer, was granted by Arlington Circuit Court Judge William T. Newman last Thursday.

Despite the fact that a Dec. 20, 2011 hearing in the case was open to the public, the contents of a motion to dismiss the case by the attorney representing Gardner was sealed by the judge, and when the News-Press sought to obtain a transcript of the hearing last month, an emergency order was signed to seal it, as well. Last Thursday’s ruling, unsealing both the motion and the transcript, Judge Newman ruled in favor of the argument of News-Press attorney Alice Lucan, who wrote that the court’s earlier emergency decisions to seal the contents were done for no demonstrable reason (names of the victims had already been deleted).

“The crime that’s alleged is horrific, and the public simply must see every step of the process,” Lucas argued. “The people involved are political figures (Gardner’s wife is a former mayor and member of the Falls Church City Council-ed.), and this is inevitably mixed up with politics in the minds of the Falls Church public. It starts to look suspicious when things are sealed. Everyone must be above suspicion, like Caesar’s wife.” The case was reported extensively in the national Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.