CINCINNATI — U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black opened the courtroom to the public on Tuesday morning, hours after WCPO and the Cincinnati Enquirer filed a motion to intervene. Reporters and the public had been barred from the courtroom during jury selection on Monday due to COVID-19 concerns.
“The suggestion that this court is trying to be anything other than transparent … is just flat out wrong,” Black said. “We are in unprecedented times, we are in the middle of a pandemic.”
WCPO, I-Team reporter Paula Christian and the Cincinnati Enquirer filed motions to allow reporters and the public to be able to view jury selection and be in the courtroom on Monday. Reporters and the public were told to go to a conference room and listen to audio of the proceedings.
Jury selection on Monday was entirely closed to the public. During that hearing prosecutors again offered a plea deal to Xu, which he declined, according to court filings. WCPO had no details about that plea deal because the public was banned from the courtroom during that time.
After jurors agreed to sit next to each other in the jury box, while wearing masks, Black agreed to open up the seating gallery to the public while encouraging them to social distance. Roughly 10 to 12 people listened to opening statements, spaced widely apart, in the gallery on Tuesday.
“The plan was always to select a jury and tweak protocols after that,” Black said.
Black announced his decision on Tuesday morning after allowing the media and the public into the courtroom.
On Monday reporters and the public had to listen to the trial from a conference room where two speakers provided audio of the court proceeding, but no video access.