Sex Hearing Properly Closed, Court Rules

SEATTLE - An August King County Superior Court hearing to determine whether there was probable cause to commit a sex offender indefinitely for treatment was properly closed to the media and the public, an appeals court has ruled.

In a ruling issued late Friday, Division 1 of the state Court of Appeals concluded that closure of the hearing protected the privacy of the sex offender and did not unduly interfere with the public's right of access.

Under the state's Community Protection Act, a sex offender is entitled to a hearing within 72 hours of being ordered detained at the conclusion of a prison sentence. If the hearing establishes probable cause that the person is a sexually violent predator, a trial follows to determine whether the sex offender should be committed indefinitely.

The Seattle Times challenged the lower court's decision to close the probable-cause hearing, arguing that the sex offender's history was a matter of public interest.

In its ruling, the appeals court likened such hearings to mental health civil-commitment proceedings, which are closed.

The Times has not decided whether to appeal, said its attorney, Marshall Nelson.