Unsealing records detailing the crimes alleged to have been committed by Jeff Curry wouldn’t jeopardize the Franklin County sheriff’s access to a fair trial, the prosecutor handling Curry’s case said this week.
Such details, however, would not likely be released until at least Monday — the same day the sheriff is set to step down from his post and face a preliminary hearing in the criminal case against him.
Responding to The Herald’s legal efforts to open sealed court documents relating to Curry’s Feb. 27 arrest, special prosecutor J. Todd Hiatt, who is working on behalf of the Franklin County Attorney’s Office and the State of Kansas, said revealing such information would not infringe on Curry’s rights.
“There is currently no evidence before the court that making the pleadings in [the criminal case against Curry] available to the public poses a clear and present danger to the fairness of the trial,” Hiatt wrote in his 5-page response. “At the time of the alleged criminal conduct, the defendant held a prominent, public position as Sheriff of Franklin County, Kansas. In fact, the criminal allegations stem from the defendant’s position as sheriff.”
As of late Friday, Curry’s attorney, Trey Pettlon, Olathe, had not responded to The Herald’s efforts to unseal documents. It was unknown whether the defense would seek to keep the details of the case secret.
Curry was arrested in late February on a felony charge of interference with law enforcement and a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct. Jerrod Fredricks, the public information officer with the sheriff’s office, also was arrested Feb. 27 on a felony charge of interference with law enforcement.
Although Hiatt aired no qualms with The Herald’s motion to intervene in the case, he indicated that details of the allegations, which also are sought after by KCTV5 and The Kansas City Star, likely would become available during Curry’s first criminal hearing 1 p.m. Monday. Senior Judge John E. Sanders ultimately will decide whether to open the sealed records.
Hiatt said Curry’s defense attorney had not sought to close Monday’s court proceedings.
“Most, if not all, the information contained in the state’s petition will be presented through testimony at the preliminary hearing in [the criminal case against Curry],” Hiatt wrote, adding that Franklin County District Court’s unstated rationale to initially seal the information was likely to ensure a fair trial. “While there is not a factual record supporting the decision to seal the pleadings in [the civil case against Curry], it may be assumed that one of the primary reasons was to ensure a fair trial free from prejudice for the individuals charged. It was well known to all involved that this matter would almost certainly be widely reported by the media. ... At least one of the intervenors in this matter [The Herald] has followed the defendant’s professional and personal travails very closely.”
To overcome the potential prejudice as a result of the public’s and media’s significant interest in the cases against Curry, Hiatt intimated that courts historically have changed a trial’s venue. In the past, courts have changed a trial’s venue as a means to ensure a jury without prejudice against the defendant or defendants.
“The ultimate outcome of the court’s decision on whether to unseal pleadings in [the civil case against Curry] may be a motion to change venue,” Hiatt wrote. “To succeed, the movant must show actual prejudice to substantial rights of the defendant in the community from which the venire will be drawn.”
Though a change of venue is possible, Haitt contended that such concerns about unsealing the information relating to the allegations against Curry and Fredricks are without evidence and “speculative.” As such, the decision to unseal the documents is “left wholly up to judicial discretion,” he said.
“The court could certainly conclude the matters pending before the courts are of great interest to the residents of Franklin County,” Hiatt wrote. “Providing a fair trial in [the criminal case against Curry] is always an important consideration for the state and for the judiciary. Public dissemination of the pleadings in [the criminal and civil cases against Curry] could impair the ability of the judicial system to provide the defendant a fair trial; however, these concerns are cautionary at this time and absent specific evidence must necessarily be based, at least in part, on speculation.”