BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — For an hour and seven minutes on a sweltering Tuesday afternoon, they sat in a nearly empty courtroom, waiting for the wheels of justice to eventually turn.
Courtney Dufermeau and Sherry Robinson had come to the Jefferson County Courthouse to hear pretrial arguments in their wrongful death case against Children’s of Alabama, a pediatric hospital in Birmingham, and two doctors, Theresa Bolus and Colin Martin.
The hospital and the doctors, the lawsuit claims, are responsible for the death of Courtney and Sherry’s daughter, Kamiya “Cookie” Dufermeau, a 7-year-old girl who died from complications due to an appendix removal she’d had at the hospital. Children’s of Alabama, Bolus, and Martin each deny responsibility.
On Tuesday, Kamiya’s parents came to bear witness. But they wouldn’t get that chance.
Moments into the hearing, lawyers for Dr. Bolus and Martin asked to approach the bench, objecting to the presence of a CBS 42 reporter in the court gallery. Circuit Judge Jim Hughey III said he didn’t believe he had the authority to ask a reporter to leave, but the judge asked lawyers to join him in chambers.
After an hour-long, closed-door meeting with around half a dozen lawyers, Hughey spoke for just over eight minutes, addressing the open courtroom, including Kamiya’s parents, who had not been present for the day’s arguments.
“We didn’t you include you in all the legal discussion because we talked about the law that we all grappled with,” the judge said, addressing Kamiya’s parents.
Hughey said he and lawyers were trying to “balance” what information could be publicly released before trial with the possibility that potential jurors may hear about the case in the media.
“In cases of note to the press,” Hughey said, “It’s possible that so much information can be put out before trial that it would have to go to another county. None of us want that to happen.”
Hughey said that “if there is too much press about it before trial,” it could create difficulties in selecting jurors who haven’t heard of the case. Alabama law “strongly encourages” that wrongful death cases be tried in the county where the incident in question occurred, the judge said.
After the hearing, Hughey issued an order asking both sides to submit “to Chambers” proposed plans for “ground rules” related to communications with the press. The order also directed the court clerk to accept a brief from Kamiya’s lawyer opposing defendants’ motion to limit information in the case. That filing, like the defendants’ motion and Tuesday’s hearing, will not be available for public view.