OGDEN — A juvenile court judge reversed a previous decision and will allow the public access to court proceedings for a teen accused of plotting to bomb Roy High School.
Second District Juvenile Judge Janice Frost initially closed the hearings based on a request from defense attorneys for 16-year-old Joshua Kyler Hoggan. Several media outlets, including the Deseret News, KSL, KUTV, KSTU and the Salt Lake Tribune fought the closure.
Media attorney Michael O'Brien referred to the statute passed by the Legislature in 1998 that states juvenile court proceedings are presumed open for minors 14 and older who are facing what would be considered a felony in adult court. The only exception is when defense attorneys can prove "good cause" for closing the hearing.
"What is especially unique about this particular case that requires closure?" O'Brien asked, particularly questioning a defense argument that open hearings could embarrass Hoggan and his family. "That particular argument has the potential to be the exception that devours the rule. … That generalized rule could justify closures in every case."
He pointed out that keeping the hearings open allows the public an opportunity to hear Hoggan's side of the story.
Defense attorney Scott Nickel argued in favor of closing hearings to the public because it would provide his client with a better chance at rehabilitation. He said he does not believe the public had a "legitimate" or "direct" interest and even questioned the validity of the charges against his client.
"Whether it even constituted a threat is a real issue," he said of his client's alleged conduct. "At this point, we're premature."
Frost questioned whether closing the courtroom would protect Hoggan, because all the hearings for his codefendant in the case, Dallin Morgan, will be open in adult court. She also agreed with O'Brien that the statute in place was meant to provide more access to the public and allows them to have an understanding of what takes place in juvenile court.
"In this case in particular, we have a great matter of public concern," the judge said. "This is a case that potentially involved a great number of victims, (which means) an even greater level of public interest.
Frost told Nickel that if he has concerns about the open discussion of certain issues, he will be able to raise those and again argue for closure. But she said all future hearings will be open.
Hoggan is facing a single charge of use of a weapon of mass destruction, a first-degree felony, in the juvenile court. Hoggan and Morgan, who faces the same charge in adult court, are both Roy High School students. They were arrested Jan. 25 after a student at the school alerted officials of some disturbing text messages. Police said the pair was planning to bomb the school during an assembly and escape on an airplane they intended to steal from nearby Ogden-Hinckley Airport.
Investigators did not locate any explosives, but the elements of the charges against both Morgan and Hoggan include possessing, displaying, attempting to use, soliciting the use of, or conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, or that they assisted, encouraged or solicited someone else to do the same.
According to a police affidavit filed Jan. 26, Hoggan sent a number of text messages detailing the plan and explaining that he and Morgan wanted "revenge on the world."
Prosecutors are seeking to have Hoggan certified as an adult.
Morgan's next court date is March 29. Hoggan's next court date is April 4.