A Pierce County judge on Friday ordered that an audio recording made inside a juvenile courtroom after official proceedings had ended be turned over to a criminal defendant for possible use during his trial.
A lawyer for Michael Williams II, 19, sought the July 31 recording, saying it might be useful as she prepares to defend him against charges of human trafficking, kidnapping and other felonies.
The audio was captured using technology called Court Smart, which provides an official record of court proceedings. The recording includes comments by the mother of a girl who Williams allegedly victimized.
The girl was being detained at the Remann Hall juvenile detention center as a material witness at the time, and her status was the subject of the hearing before Judge Susan Serko.
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Serko had left the bench and the girl was being led back into a secured area at juvenile court when her mother shouted at her from across the courtroom, court records show.
The Court Smart recorder was still running, according to the records.
Defense attorney Mary Kay High said the mother’s comments were derogatory toward the defense team and also meant to communicate to the girl that she should not cooperate during a pending defense interview.
That material might be relevant during cross-examination of the girl and her mother should the case go to trial and they be called as prosecution witnesses, High argued.
“Where the witness sought to be cross-examined is the state’s witness providing an essential link in the prosecutor’s case, the importance of full and searching cross-examination to disclose possible bias, prejudice, truthfulness, interest or misconduct is substantially increased,” High wrote in pleadings.
Deputy prosecutor Alicia Burton argued on behalf of juvenile court, which declined to provide a copy of the recording to High. Burton had listened to the recording before coming to court Friday.
Burton, who is not prosecuting Williams, characterized the mother’s comments as being supportive of her daughter, not disparaging of the defense or coaching the girl on how to answer questions.
The deputy prosecutor told Judge Michael Schwartz there was some concern the mother’s comments might be construed as a private communication not subject to discovery rules and that the recording might have captured conversations of others in the courtroom.
She asked Schwartz to review the recording privately before making a decision about what, if any of it, should be released.
Schwartz sided with High and ordered the recording turned over to the defense as soon as possible.
“I do believe the defendant, Mr. Williams, is entitled to a copy of this recording to assist him in preparing his defense,” the judge said.
Schwartz postponed making a decision on whether Williams was entitled to review the state Department of Social and Health Services files of the girl and another juvenile witness in the case.
Burton argued against their release.
The judge said he will review them privately before making a decision.