A visiting judge Friday again ordered Lafayette Parish Courthouse officials to open most documents in the Seth Fontenot murder case that another judge sealed shut last year.
But Clerk of Court’s Office employees who were unsealing the computer files Friday afternoon experienced a systems problem that prevented Fontenot’s criminal case from being accessible as of the close of business Friday.
Sally Lane, who runs the clerk’s criminal files division, said employees attempted to fix the problem but weren’t successful.
She said the Fontenot computer files, which contain hundreds of motions and other court documents, likely would be down until Wednesday, at the earliest, when courthouse employees will return from the Mardi Gras holiday.
It was the second time in less than two weeks that ad hoc Judge Harry Randow ordered courthouse clerks to open most of the records that had been sealed in the Fontenot case.
Randow’s order was a reversal of the blanket Judge Ed Rubin threw over the case files last year. Rubin is on medical leave, and Randow has taken over his case load. It’s unknown whether Rubin will return by Fontenot’s trial date of March 16 or if the trial will be delayed again.
Fontenot, 20, is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of 15-year-old Austin Rivault and two counts of attempted first-degree murder of two other 15-year-old boys on Feb. 10, 2013.
The arguments over whether to open up the case have been a verbal tug of war between the District Attorney’s Office, which opposes the move, and attorneys for Fontenot and media outlets The Advocate and KATC Communications.
Randow, a retired judge from Alexandria and the 9th Judicial District, has been pulled back and forth on the issue of how much of the file to make publicly available.
On Monday, the judge put a hold on his Feb. 2 and Feb. 5 decisions to unseal almost all of the records after prosecutor J.N. Prather said he would ask an appellate court to prevent opening the files.
Randow reconsidered his decision Friday and again ordered clerks to unseal all but 10 documents that Prather considered the most sensitive. Randow said he wanted all the documents to be made public but said he’d hold off on unsealing those 10 until the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal made its decision.
Prather was strongly opposed to opening the file, arguing they contain sensitive information such as medical records about the two teenagers who were wounded in the shooting outside Fontenot’s south Lafayette home. Prather said opening the files could put the surviving teens through a public opinion wringer.
“These are the victims. These are the ones who witnessed the murder,” Prather said.
The two boys, now 17, were in a truck with Rivault that early February Sunday morning when Fontenot killed Rivault. Fontenot told police he believed his truck was being burglarized again.
One of the teens, Cole Kelly, told detectives that Fontenot came out of his house wearing red sneakers and underwear armed with a 9 mm Beretta. Fontenot told detectives he fired three times at the tail lights as the truck they were in sped away. The driver, Kelly, and another teen, William Bellamy, were injured by one bullet each. Rivault lay dead or dying in the truck’s rear seat after being hit in the head. All three boys were students at Lafayette Catholic high schools.
The survivors are now 17 and considered adults, which has made it difficult in ruling whether they should be treated as juveniles or adults under Louisiana law.
Fontenot faces life in prison. The District Attorney’s Office said it would not seek the death penalty, which had been a possibility for a conviction of first-degree murder.