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MATTER SYLVIA SEEGRIST. APPEAL SYLVIA SEEGRIST (03/30/88)

decided: March 30, 1988.

IN THE MATTER OF SYLVIA SEEGRIST. APPEAL OF SYLVIA SEEGRIST


Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Criminal Division, Entered March 13, 1986, at No. Misc. 404 November, 1985.

COUNSEL

John H. Corbett, Jr., Frank L. Cecchetti, Office of the Public Defender, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Edward P. Carey, Howard Ulan, Asst. Counsel, Dept. of Public Welfare, Pittsburgh, for amicus curiae.

LeRoy S. Zimmerman, Atty. Gen., Harrisburg, James A. Esler, Allegheny County Law Dept., Pittsburgh, for appellees.

Scott E. Henderson, Thorp, Reed & Armstrong, Pittsburgh, for Pittsburgh Press.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Hutchinson, Former J., did not participate in the decision of this case. Stout, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case. Larsen, J., concurs in the result. McDermott, J., files a dissenting opinion.

Author: Papadakos

[ 517 Pa. Page 569]

Opinion OF THE COURT

Appellant, Sylvia Seegrist, appeals directly to this Court, as of right under 42 P.S. ยง 722(7),*fn1 from an opinion and order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Raymond A. Novak, J. The order in question refused to exclude a member of the press from an informal conference

[ 517 Pa. Page 570]

    conducted pursuant to Section 303*fn2 of the Mental Health Procedures Act,*fn3 presided over by Judge Novak, and held for the purpose of committing Appellant "for involuntary emergency treatment -- not to exceed twenty days." The trial judge inexplicably applied Section 304(e)(4)*fn4 to the instant informal conference, and then held that its requirements were in conflict with the constitutional right of the public and the press to have free access to the courts under the First, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, and Article I, Sections 7 and 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. On its face, Section 304(e)(4) of the Mental Health Procedures Act is applicable only to formal hearings held in response to a petition for "court-ordered involuntary treatment -- not to exceed ninety days." It provides that: "The hearing shall be public unless it is requested to be private by the person or his counsel." We affirm the trial court's order permitting the press to be present at the informal conference held in this case, but we expressly reject the finding that Section 304(e)(4) is unconstitutional because said finding was unnecessary to the resolution of the issues herein.

Appellant was accused of shooting several people in a suburban Philadelphia shopping mall on October 30, 1985. Three people were killed and seven wounded. This incident was widely reported by both the print and broadcast media. Articles concerning the incident appeared in both of the general circulation daily newspapers published in Pittsburgh.

In early November, Appellant was transferred from the Delaware County jail, where she had been detained on several homicide charges, to the Mayview State Hospital in Allegheny County for emergency confinement since it was the only forensic facility in the Commonwealth available for women. This transfer ...


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