791 F.2d 103 (8th Cir. 1986), 85-2467, United States v. Webbe

Docket Nº:85-2467, 85-2468.
Citation:791 F.2d 103
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Sorkis WEBBE, Jr., et al., Defendants, CBS, Inc., d/b/a KMOX-TV, Channel 4, Appellant.
Case Date:May 15, 1986
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Page 103

791 F.2d 103 (8th Cir. 1986)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,


Sorkis WEBBE, Jr., et al., Defendants,

CBS, Inc., d/b/a KMOX-TV, Channel 4, Appellant.

Nos. 85-2467, 85-2468.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

May 15, 1986

Submitted March 12, 1986.

Page 104

Allen S. Boston, St. Louis, Mo., for appellant.

James E. Crowe, Jr., St. Louis, Mo., for appellee.

Before HEANEY, Circuit Judge, FLOYD R. GIBSON, Senior Circuit Judge, and WOODS, District Judge. [*]

FLOYD R. GIBSON, Senior Circuit Judge.

CBS Inc. (CBS) appeals from the district court's 1 denial of its application requesting permission to copy portions of audio tapes admitted into evidence in the trial of Sorkis Webbe, Jr., and others for mail fraud. CBS, which made the application on behalf of KMOX-TV, its St. Louis station, and KTVI-TV and KSDK-TV, intended to broadcast the tapes to the public. We affirm the district court's denial of CBS' application.


Sorkis Webbe, Jr. and three other defendants were tried from October 21, 1985 through November 14, 1985, on charges of vote fraud and obstruction of justice. Webbe has served as Alderman for the Seventh Ward of the City of St. Louis and as Democratic Party Committeeman for the Seventh Ward. Admitted into evidence at trial were audiotapes, made pursuant to Title III of the Federal Omnibus Crime Control & Safe Streets Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2511 et seq., of conversations taking place at the Mayfair Hotel in St. Louis. Webbe was the president and general manager of the Mayfair. During the trial, CBS applied to the district court to copy those audiotapes admitted into evidence. By order of November 8, 1985, the district court denied CBS' application. The court, declining to adopt the holdings of other circuit courts of appeals that a strong presumption exists in favor of public access to judicial records, held that Webbe's constitutional rights to a fair trial were paramount to the media's common law right of access. The court noted that the press had not been excluded from the trial and had received transcripts of the tapes; that Webbe was a public figure with other charges pending against him; and that the jury selection in the instant case had been difficult.

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On November 14, 1985 the jury returned guilty verdicts against the four defendants. Three of those defendants, including Webbe, have appealed their convictions to this court. On December 9, 1985, CBS filed this appeal of the district court's denial of its application. Subsequently, on December 18, 1985, Webbe pleaded guilty in the cases pending against him: No. 83-228 CR C1, charging Webbe with harboring a fugitive, and No. SI-84-207 CR C1, charging Webbe and five others with conspiracy and mail fraud relating to the awarding of a cable television franchise in St. Louis. The cable television case is still pending against four remaining defendants.


On appeal CBS argues that the district court erred in denying its application to copy the audiotapes in question because it has a constitutional and common law right to copy the tapes. CBS contends that its constitutional right of access emanates from the First Amendment right of the public and the press to observe the judicial process. In arguing that its common law right to inspect and copy judicial records mandates access here, CBS cites Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597, 98 S.Ct. 1306, 1311, 55 L.Ed.2d 570 (1978), as well as several federal appellate decisions recognizing a strong presumption in favor of the common...

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