Updated at 4:24 p.m.
Information on recent developments in the Chandra Levy murder case will remain under seal, per a judge's order, over the objections of media organizations and the D.C. Public Defender Service.
District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher explained his decision in court today, saying that there were "compelling interests" to keep the information under seal for now. He denied a motion yesterday filed by media groups to unseal filings and recent proceedings, and today denied their request to stay any future proceedings that would be confidential. Fisher also announced that the District of Columbia Court of Appeals had denied a motion filed by the Public Defender Service to reverse his previous secrecy orders.
More than two years after a Superior Court jury found Ingmar Guandique guilty in the 24-year-old intern's murder, the case has been back before Fisher after prosecutors notified the court that there was evidence that could potentially impeach a government trial witness. Fisher has held hearings since December at the bench and sealed filings and transcripts.
Guandique was in court today, seated next to his lawyers from the Public Defender Service. He wore an orange jumpsuit with a white T-shirt underneath and was shackled. He listened to proceedings using headphones so he could hear a Spanish-language translator. He didn't speak to the court, except to acknowledge that he could hear what was going on.
Besides the press access issues, lawyers in the case were also scheduled to address substantive issues today, but Fisher postponed those discussions until February 14, explaining that he wasn't feeling well. He did announce, however, that the next hearing would be closed to the press and the public. He said that members of the media could sit in the courtroom if they preferred, but that any talks would take place at the bench.
Patrick Carome of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr, who is representing the media groups, objected in court to Fisher's decision. In light of Fisher's previous request that prosecutors find other options to keeping records completely under seal, Carome asked if the court could set a deadline for ruling on those alternatives. Fisher said that during a January hearing not open to the press, he had given lawyers 90 days.
Fisher did read a section of the appeals court's ruling out loud today. According to the order (PDF)order, which was made available after the hearing, the court found that summary reversal was appropriate when "basic facts are both uncomplicated and undisputed, and the lower court's ruling rests on a narrow and clear-cut issue of law." The appeals court found that it couldn't rule at this point on whether Fisher violated the First and Sixth Amendments or abused his discretion.
The recent wrangling over access echoed a previous legal fight between media groups and the court over access to jury questionnaires. In January 2012, the appeals court found that Fisher was wrong to deny access.
Guandique's lawyers appealed his conviction, but briefing has been put on hold until the Superior Court proceedings are finished, according to a January 14 appeals court order. He was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder in November 2010.