CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When a Charleston police officer was arrested on a charge of soliciting sex with a minor on Friday, Kanawha County Magistrate Tim Halloran wouldn't let the public into the courtroom, according to a TV reporter who was there.
If that's true, it's a clear violation of state law, said Steve Canterbury, administrative director of the West Virginia Supreme Court.
The West Virginia Constitution guarantees that courts are open to the public. When a hearing is closed, the court must specifically state why, according to Article 3, Section 17 of the constitution.
There are exceptions for some hearings, such as matters in family court, but none of those apply here, Canterbury said.
"They can keep out any recording, audio or video and prevent photos from being taken," he said. "However, in a public hearing, reporters as members of the public can't be restricted. Each reporter can come in and take notes."
Sean Phillip Patrick, 30, allegedly propositioned someone over the Internet he understood to be a girl between the ages of 15 and 17 from Loudoun County, Va., according to the warrant of arrest filed by the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office.
Kraig Troxell, public information officer for the Loudoun sheriff's department, wouldn't say whether the person Patrick thought was a teenage girl was actually a sheriff's deputy, an FBI agent or a member of the public.
The FBI joined the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office Internet Crimes Against Children Unit to arrest Patrick Friday evening at the Charleston Police Department.
Patrick is charged in Virginia with using a communications system for the purpose of soliciting a minor between the ages of 15 and 17 with lascivious intent, which is a Class 5 felony.
Mike Waterhouse, news operations manager at WSAZ-TV, says he was the only person attempting to get into the courtroom during Patrick's hearing on Friday. Waterhouse filed a complaint to the state Judicial Investigation Commission on Monday.
"I don't believe any other member of the public would be allowed back there as well," he said. "We have these open hearings so the public can witness what happens and clearly that wasn't the case Friday night."
Waterhouse said he went to the magistrate courtroom in the Kanawha County Courthouse annex Friday without a camera because he knew Halloran has a long history of barring recordings of proceedings in his courtroom.