The state's highest court yesterday unanimously upheld the right of the public and press to attend many types of pretrial proceedings. t

With its ruling, the Court of Appeals began to set limits on how strict judges could be in closing their courtrooms.

The court, expanding an earlier decision which held a pretrial hearing could be closed to the press, said there is "little justification" for closing many other similar hearings.

In the earlier case, the court ruled the press could be excludled from a hearing condidering whether certain evidence would be admissible at trial.

In that case the justices held that publicizing information they might later rule inadmissible could jeopardize the defendant's right to a fair trial.

The latest decision concerned a competency hearing that was closed while the judge determined whether a man charged with raping several small girls was mentally fit to stand trial.

The court held the public and press has a right to attend such pretrial hearings.

"All court proceedings are presumptively open to the public, but when this would jeopardize the right of the defendent to a fair trial, the competing interests must be balanced and reconciled as far as possible," the court said.