Did court secrecy in Treyanna Summerville case break the law?

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 4:46 PM EDT
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CANTON, New York (WWNY) - It has been a case shrouded in secrecy: the death of Gouverneur teen Treyanna Summerville. Now, it appears some of that secrecy may have broken court procedure – perhaps breaking the law.

From the start, officials said court proceedings against Treyanna Summerville’s 13-year-old half-sister on a murder charge would be closed.

But, now we have learned the proceedings should have been open.

“My understanding is that the court had indicated that it was closed, at the beginning. I know that there have also been conversations with other judges and it may be a different situation. But, I’m not involved in that. That’s not a decision that I make: whether or not it’s open to the public or not,” said St. Lawrence County District Attorney Gary Pasqua.

A closed court makes a difference. It means no outsider, including reporters, could get a look at a process that could have sent a teen to prison for life.

It also meant no one could obtain court records showing why a murder charge was brought. The case was heard by Youth Part County Court Judge Cecily Morris.

On September 3, 7 News reporter Keith Benman requested some of those records. He requested more Wednesday.

He received this response from the court clerk’s office:

“You are correct, you would be entitled to documents in the case, however, now Judge Morris has issued an order dismissing the Complaint, at request of the District Attorney. Therefore, this case is now Sealed. I have attached a copy of her order.”

7 News has now received a few more documents after intervention by the top judge in the 4th Judicial District.

The dismissal order provided earlier shows District Attorney Pasqua made his motion for dismissal on August 17. He told the court “the evidence no longer supports the charge.”

Judge Cecily Morris dismissed the case on September 8. That’s five days after 7 News’ first request for records.

From the get go, so much was kept from public view in this case. Officials would not even confirm a death in the home until 14 hours after the body was found. There was no advance public notice of court appearances.

We reached out directly to Judge Morris’ office on why she kept such a high-profile case closed to the public when it should have been open. We received no response.

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