Actor Kevin Spacey has played many roles in his career. But now, as a real-life criminal defendant, he has unintentionally become the poster child for why show-cause hearings can and must be public proceedings.
The recent hearing before a clerk magistrate in Nantucket District Court resulted in a felony charge of indecent assault and battery lodged against Spacey for which he is scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 7. The 59-year-old actor is alleged to have groped the then 18-year-old son of former Boston news anchor Heather Unruh back in 2016.
For months the Globe Spotlight Team has been documenting cases — not of celebrities but of well-known local officials — where clerk magistrates opted to hold those hearings in secret, out of public view and, more often than not, unrecorded. Show-cause hearings are an anomaly among all judicial proceedings, which must be held in public and must be recorded.
As a Trial Court Working Group assesses show-cause hearing standards, the Spacey case demonstrates how the system can function in a transparent way. The 36-minute hearing, at which the actor himself was not present but was represented by two defense lawyers, was recorded and later made public. The recording includes the cross examination of the State Police detective who conducted the investigation and questioned the alleged victim.
It was precisely what the state’s highest court had in mind in a 2007 decision that found, “Where an incident has already attracted public attention prior to a show cause hearing, the interest in shielding the participants from publicity is necessarily diminished, while the public’s legitimate interest in access is correspondingly stronger.”
Equal justice demands that all such hearings are open and recorded. Spacey didn’t get special treatment — and that’s the whole point. No one should.