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Stars and Stripes has filed a petition against the U.S. Navy, challenging a legal official’s decision to bar the public and media from an entire criminal hearing held last month in Naples, Italy.

The daily newspaper filed its petition with the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday afternoon.

The paper is asking the court for three things: to order Navy officials in Italy to immediately stop the process of an Article 32 investigation into allegations that a Naples sailor had sex with a minor and sexually harassed another person; to redo the Article 32 investigation; and to comply with military and constitutional law in all future proceedings.

As of Thursday, the case involving Chief Petty Officer Felix Correa rested with Rear Adm. Noel Preston, Commander Navy Region Europe, who had not yet decided what action to take, a Navy spokeswoman said.

Navy officials in Europe and Washington declined to comment on the specifics of the case.

Lt. William Marks, a spokesman for the Navy in the Pentagon, said, “We take this matter very seriously, and it is currently under review by the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s office in the Pentagon.”

Stars and Stripes is a Defense Department-authorized daily newspaper that operates editorially independent of military control and censorship.

An Article 32 hearing is similar to what would be in civilian courts a combination of a grand jury and preliminary hearing, and is a process in which evidence is presented to an investigating officer, who then makes a recommendation to a convening authority as to whether the case should proceed to a court-martial.

In the petition, Stars and Stripes is arguing that the investigating officer, Lt. Cmdr. Kathryn McCormick, violated the law when she decided to hold the entire hearing behind closed doors.

On Nov. 15 and 16, McCormick barred the public and media from all of the Article 32 investigation on charges that Correa, 41, engaged in indecent acts with a minor. He also faces charges of fraternization and sexual harassment. The charges are accusations, and Correa has not been proven guilty.

Late in the afternoon of the second day of testimony, McCormick issued the required written explanation, through the public affairs office, supporting her decision.

“Specifically, it was determined that the expected testimony of each witness and discussion of the evidence in this case, would contain matters which would likely, if released to the public, adversely affect the rights of the accused and/or the alleged victims, one of whom is a minor child; or discourage the complete testimony by embarrassed or timid witnesses,” reads a portion of her statement.

Stars and Stripes’ petition maintains that McCormick violated military and constitutional law with her “order to close the entire Article 32 proceeding without articulating any specific and substantial reasons with respect to individual witnesses and evidence,” and that by her action, McCormick used “an ax in place of the constitutionally required scalpel,” the petition states, taking a quote from a judge’s decision in an earlier case, that of U.S. v. Grunden.

“It is disturbing to hear that blanket closure orders like this are still being used, but it would be even more disturbing if they were allowed to get away with it,” said Matthew Freedus, a lawyer who filed the petition on Stars and Stripes’ behalf. Freedus works with Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell LLP firm in Washington.

The petition also maintains McCormick violated law by failing to decide whether to close the hearing on a “case-by-case, witness-by-witness, circumstance-by-circumstance basis,” as established by judges in the ABC Inc. v. Powell decision.

Navy officials have refused to provide Stars and Stripes with a list of witnesses or a description of what the witnesses’ roles might have been in the case, such as if they were a Navy criminal investigator, supervisor of the accused or parent of the alleged victim.


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