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Appeals Court Hears Arguments Over Eric Garner Grand Jury Record

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- An appeals court is revisiting the issue of whether the grand jury record in the Eric Garner police chokehold death case should stay sealed.

The three-judge panel heard arguments Tuesday in Brooklyn.

A judge on Staten Island had ruled in March that the records would remain under seal. The parties seeking the release of the minutes appealed. They include the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Legal Aid Society and the city public advocate's office.

Appeals Court Hears Arguments Over Eric Garner Grand Jury Record

Aside from the public's right to know, NYCLU attorney Arthur Eisenberg said the argument is part of a larger debate around grand jury reform and there's more at stake than just the Garner case.

But during oral arguments, Justice John Leventhal asked Eisenberg why he wanted to look at just one grand jury to change the whole system, WCBS 880's Marla Diamond reported.

"Why aren't we looking at a number of grand juries, how the grand jury works?" Leventhal asked. "More information is better than less. And I think what has happened here is that the Garner grand jury and the perception of unfairness has driven the conversation."

Public Advocate Letitia James, who has proposed grand jury reform, said they're seeking to reassure confidence in the system.

"Secrecy breeds suspicion, and sunshine really is the best disinfectant," she said.

But Staten Island Assistant District Attorney Anne Grady argued it could have a chilling effect on future grand juries.

"The intense public scrutiny of this case should result not in disclosure but in even more zealous protection," she said.

Justice Leonard Austin chastised the Staten Island DA's office for releasing some grand jury information.

"Your office seems to have wanted to put a very pretty gloss on what happens and kind of sweep everything else under the rug and use grand jury secrecy as its protection," he said.

The judges gave no indication on when they would rule.

Officer Daniel Pantaleo and other cops had stopped Garner last summer on suspicion of illegal cigarette sales. A video from an onlooker shows that in the course of taking Garner into custody, Pantaleo wrapped his arm around Garner's neck. Garner, who had asthma, was heard in the video gasping, "I can't breathe.'' He lost consciousness and died.

A grand jury failed to indict Pantaleo, sparking protests across the city and nation.

The NYCLU and others had asked the court to order Daniel Donovan, then Staten Island's district attorney, to release the grand jury transcript, including the testimony of the officer and dozens of witnesses, detailed descriptions of evidence and other documentation.

State Supreme Court Justice William Garnett ruled the plaintiffs would have had to establish a "compelling and particularized need'' for the release, and that their arguments that it was in the public interest didn't meet that standard.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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