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Preliminary hearing in Kristin Smart case starts July 6; proceedings will not be live-streamed

Lauren Walike
Judge Craig van Rooyen, upper left, said that media coverage will be limited at the 12-day preliminary hearing and no photographs or videos could be taken of the audience or witnesses at the hearing.

During a pre-preliminary hearing for the 1996 disappearance of Cal Poly freshman Kristin Smart on June 21, Judge Craig van Rooyen confirmed a 12-day preliminary hearing will start next month.

However, Judge van Rooyen said this hearing will be different from proceedings up to this point because it will not be live-streamed and there will be limited media coverage.

Paul Flores, who is being charged with murdering Kristin Smart, appeared virtually in San Luis Obispo Superior Court for a pre-preliminary hearing June 21. His father, Ruben Flores also appeared in court and is being charged with accessory to the crime.

Dan Laidman, who appeared on behalf of NBC Universal and KSBY, argued to allow video and audio coverage of the proceedings.

“This is a case where there is a heightened public interest even beyond that that exists in scrutinizing any criminal proceeding in California,” Laidman said. “But this is a case that for decades has really gripped this community and the nation at large and people are following it, not just for the underlying facts of the case, but for what it means for the criminal justice system and how it handled this case that was dormant for so long.”

In response, Robert Sanger, representing Paul Flores, asked that there be no cameras allowed in the courtroom.

“There’s no constitutional right, no legal right of any sort for the press to have cameras or anybody else to have cameras in the courtroom,” Sanger said. “That's always up to the discretion of the court.”

Judge van Rooyen said he will not allow audio recording and broadcasting. Members of the media will be allowed a still camera for photographs and a video camera for video footage.

“The court’s biggest concern is maintaining the fairness of the proceedings and especially if this case proceeds to trial, ensuring that we can select a fair and unbiased jury.”

Judge van Rooyen also said the July 6 hearing will not be live-streamed to the public.

“Specifically, to expose the community to a live blow-by-blow hearing that could include evidence that is inadmissible at trial and perhaps to arguments that might preview evidence that does not end up being admitted at trial that would affect the ability to pick a fair jury," van Rooyen said.

There will be a space in the courtroom for the public, media and families of all parties.

“I’ve also considered the privacy rights of the witnesses and the impact of that exposure on proceedings,” van Rooyen said. “I understand that there are a number of civilian witnesses who have been subpoenaed for the preliminary hearing. To render those potential trial witnesses sort of unwilling celebrities and have potential jurors making decisions about credibility before trial could also impact the ability to pick a fair jury later if this goes to jury trial.”

The terms of Judge van Rooyen’s ruling includes that no one takes videos or photos of the audience or witnesses.

Judge van Rooyen said these rulings are subject to change and consideration at the trial may be different than at the hearing.

Judge van Rooyen said he knows at least one witness on the People’s witness list that expressed, through their attorney, “fear of being followed and harassed following the preliminary hearing based on the intense publicity and intense interest that is generated in this case.”

Christopher Peurvrelle, representing the People, requested another pre-preliminary hearing, which will take place June 23 at 1:30p.m. over Zoom in at the San Luis Obispo Superior Court website in Department 5.

The 12-day preliminary hearing will take place July 6 and Judge van Rooyen said evidence collection aims to start at 1:30 p.m. that afternoon.

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