If Michael Lewis Ratcliff accepts a plea agreement next week, as those close to the case suggest is likely, what happens to the evidence the public would learn had the case gone to trial?
That's a tricky question.
I talked to a renowned media attorney tonight, and while I'm still a bit confused, here's my layman understanding:
If Mr. Ratcliff accepts a plea agreement, and is sentenced to prison, much of the evidence is public. If he is given deferred adjudication, or probation, then much of that evidence is sealed.
Mind you, that is a layman's understanding. But it's safe to say that we won't learn all the evidence -- or all of the prosecutorial points, as it may be -- if the case doesn't go to trial.
Either way, though, the ethical question still is there: Does a community who voted for, and paid the salary of, a public official deserve answers?
What, if anything, did Mr. Ratcliff do? Who else was involved?
“In a case where the charges are of this nature – where the victim is a child and the offense is of a sexual nature – no, I don’t think there’s an overwhelming public interest in the case,” Cagle said.
Cagle makes a compelling point.
Laura Prather, though, offers a different perspective.
Prather is an Austin media attorney who represents the Advocate, among many clients.
She suggests that in a high-profile case, the public deserves to know who is involved, and the manner in which they were involved.
“When a community votes an individual in to public office, they’ve expressed faith in that individual,” Prather said. “When there’s a breach of that trust, the public should have the right to know what happened to create that breach.”
As a journalist, I'm biased on this question. I instinctively feel the information should be public. But, it's my job to get such information to you.
What do you think?
Gabe Semenza/Advocate public service editor
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