The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York held yesterday that the public has a right to the videotapes made in the FBI's Abscam investigations as soon as they are introduced into evidence in open court.
The decision was handed down in a suit bought by the three major television networks for the right to make copies of the tapes used in last month's trial in Brooklyn of Rep. Michael (Ozzie) Myers (D-Pa.) and three codefendants.
Upholding a ruling by the trial judge, George C. Pratt, the appellate court ruled that the tapes were like any other item of evidence introduced at a public trial. The court said the presumption in favor of public inspection and copying was "especially strong in a case like this where the evidence shows the actions of public officials. . ."
Pratt had approved release of the tapes to the networks at the close of each day's session at which they were introduced.
Voicing approval of this procedure, a three-judge appellate panel said, "There is a significant public interest in affording that opportunity contemporaneously with the introduction of tapes into evidence in the courtroom, when public attention is alerted to the ongoing trial."
Officials of all three wetworks praised the ruling, but noted that it is not yet final and can be appealed to the Supreme Court. They said they would have to see the tapes before deciding just how to use them, but all were confident that nightly news programs would at least show excerpts if the tapes become available.