Media appeal questions handling of Cooper warrants
Posted November 26, 2008
The parent companies of WRAL and the Raleigh News & Observer filed an appeal Wednesday questioning the reasoning behind sealed search warrants in a high-profile criminal investigation.
Three search warrants related to the investigation of the murder of Nancy Cooper were ordered sealed by Judge Donald Stephens in July. Stephens upheld his decision again in August, and allowed the warrants to remain sealed until their eventual release Sept. 2.
The media outlets argued in a brief filed Wednesday that the judge did not follow established procedures in determining whether to seal the warrants. The brief states that the Cooper warrants did not meet the standards required by law to be sealed.
According to the brief:
- The court relied on speculation about possible harm the release of warrants might have on the criminal investigation, rather than asking for written support for that conclusion.
- Law enforcement had no compelling reason to ask that the warrants be sealed. In fact, the request to seal was made before the searches were executed, before law enforcement knew what the search would yield.
- The order to seal was not narrow enough in scope or duration.
- The court did not consider, as is required, allowing some of the information in the warrants to be made public.
The brief notes that despite the subsequent release of the warrants, the questions raised by the appeal about procedures and standards remain.