U.S. District Judge Dee Benson on Thursday said he would take under advisement arguments for and against issuing a preliminary injunction to stop a series of closed hearings regarding the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster.
The judge said he would issue a ruling Monday or Tuesday.
The Deseret Morning News, Salt Lake Tribune and other Utah media outlets filed suit in federal court this week seeking to stop any hearings on two mine collapses, which claimed a total of nine lives, until the hearings are opened to the public and press.
Documents filed in federal court argue there have been reports that the Mine Safety and Health Administration bears some responsibility for the accident and perhaps engaged in "inappropriate activity" afterward.
Attorneys for the media organizations have argued reporters and members of the public have a right to know what is happening in proceedings undertaken by a group called the "MSHA panel." The panel has been examining the two accidents and taking sworn testimony from people in formal, quasi-judicial settings that have been kept secret.
The media organizations believe the public has a constitutional right to know about the disaster and what the panel is doing.
The lawsuit asked the federal court to order Elaine L. Chao, U.S. Secretary of Labor, to make the proceedings public. But the Labor Department previously denied such requests.
Its acting solicitor, Jonathan Snare, has said it would be wrong to offer media access during a law enforcement investigation. He raised concerns that media scrutiny could result in witness testimony possibly being prejudiced, that witnesses could be subject to intimidation and that civil or criminal violators might become aware that they are under suspicion.
In documents filed this week in federal court, the government further contends that conducting confidential hearings will produce "open and uninhibited answers" that will provide accurate information so MSHA can determine the cause of the disaster and prevent future accidents.
The MSHA panel has suggested that a report and transcripts of "nonconfidential" testimony will be available later.The media organizations fear, judging from past history, it will take months before anything becomes public and what is eventually produced will be "limited" information. The media groups maintain the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires these proceedings to be open to the public.
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