A Howard County Circuit Court judge closed his courtroom yesterday to the public and news media during a pretrial hearing in the case of a county schoolteacher accused of child abuse.
Claiming that JudgeCornelius F. Sybert Jr.'s decision violates the press' First Amendment rights, attorneys for The Baltimore Sun objected to the decision in writing.
In a July 1991 Maryland Court of Appeals ruling, the court said the press has a right to attend pretrial criminal hearings, said Mary Craig, a lawyer for The Baltimore Sun.
The appeals court found that Howard County Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. erred in closing his courtroom during a pretrial hearing in a murder case in November 1990, Craig said.
Yesterday's hearing involved Dennis Gotcher, a special education teacher at Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City.
Gotcher, 48, of the 5000 block of Beatrice Way in Columbia, is scheduled to stand trial on Nov. 27 on charges of child abuse and fourth-degree sexual offense. He is accused of fondling a 15-year-old girl.
He also faces two counts of child abuse and fourth-degree sexual offenses in similar cases involving two teen-age girls at Mount Hebron.
Assistant State's Attorney Lillian P. Clark said she planned topresent testimony at yesterday's hearing from four of the teacher's former students who claim that he also touched them sexually.
Sybert will rule on whether the evidence can be introduced at Gotcher's trial, Clark said.
At the request of the defense and prosecution, Sybert said, he closed the hearing so witnesses could testify in private.