WEST JORDAN — A judge who concedes that he inappropriately closed a hearing on the evidence against a man accused of raping and kidnapping a teenage girl is still deliberating whether to release a transcript of the hearing.
Though 3rd District Judge Bruce Lubeck reiterated Tuesday that the closure of a preliminary hearing in the case against Angel Vizuet Garcia, 56, was legally wrong, he again declined to immediately release the transcripts, instead saying he would continue to the mull the issue. The Deseret News is requesting that the judge release the transcript so that the public can better understand the judge's decision in ordering Garcia to stand trial and protect the public's constitutional right of access to hearings.
"I think it is clear from the hearing today that the judge is struggling with the way to apply the law in the fairest way that he can," attorney Austin Riter, who argued for the Deseret News, said. "We're encouraged that he's taking it under advisement and giving it more careful consideration and also that he's aware of the timeliness factor and agreed to get a decision out by the end of the week."
Garcia was originally charged with kidnapping, obstructing justice and reckless endangerment in the January 2013 disappearance of a 13-year-old girl. For two days, more than 1,000 volunteers searched for the girl until she was located after she called her family from South Jordan.
She apparently left her home to meet Garcia, who kept her from police as they searched his home.
On the day of the preliminary hearing, however, prosecutors filed 10 additional charges — all first-degree felonies — that included four counts of sodomy on a child, two counts of rape of a child and four counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child. Prosecutors allege the man had been sexually abusing the girl as far back as 2008.
But soon after te new information was revealed in the amended charges, the judge closed the hearing, preventing the public from hearing the girl's testimony about the alleged crimes.
"In a legal fashion, clearly I inappropriately — it was plain wrongly, procedurally — closed the hearing," Lubeck said Tuesday. "I've explained that before. I know that."
At a May 23 hearing, the judge said he was prepared to unseal the transcript, when Garcia's attorney interjected and suggested that a guardian ad litem attorney be appointed to represent the girl. The judge agreed and appointed such an attorney, he said Tuesday, before realizing that the law doesn't allow him to do so.
"I was hopeful I could find someone to speak for this young woman in a legal way," he explained, before spending time questioning several of those present about how he could legally appoint an attorney for the girl.
Riter explained that victim's rights laws allow the state, the victim or her family member or representative to speak on the girl's behalf. The girl's mother spoke Tuesday and said her daughter is in counseling and that the release of the transcript would "impair her in her recovery."
Riter assured the judge that the Deseret News stopped using the girl's name once the nature of the case changed and said the real issue the newspaper wants the judge to reverse is the "inappropriate" closure to protect the precedent, which is that the public has a presumptive right to court hearings.
"This is not a case about the Deseret News wanting to publish these details," Riter said. "This is a case about the institutional right to a criminal preliminary hearing."
Garcia's attorney, Mary Corporon, said she had called several guardian ad litem attorneys in private practice and found one who would take the case free of charge. But Riter questioned the court taking recommendations from the attorney of the man charged with kidnapping and raping the victim.
"I understand the good intentions of defense counsel, but it's not the appropriate role of counsel for the accused," he said.
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