Criminal court proceedings are held in public and on the record for a reason: You can’t have a free society with secret arrests, secret trials and secret imprisonment. There are times when a detail here and there can be suppressed, but the default position should always be openness, even if that means some people are embarrassed.

District Court Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz appears to have forgotten this bedrock principle when he attempted to order journalists including Scott Dolan of the Portland Press Herald not to report on some testimony in a change-of-plea hearing on Monday. The judge was persuaded to grant a defense demand that the public be kept in the dark as part of a plea deal.

But the public’s right to know was not the judge’s to bargain with. Helping a defendant protect his reputation should not have outweighed the very strong public interest in holding criminal proceedings in full view of the community.

The case involved charges of domestic violence, sadly an all-to-regular occurrence in Maine courts. But the identity of the defendant made this one stand out.

Anthony J. Sineni III is a well-known criminal defense attorney who regularly appears in courtrooms around the state on behalf of his clients. His job raised public interest in the case, but it should not have led to Sineni getting special treatment.

He entered the Cumberland County Courthouse on Monday facing five charges, including four felonies. He left with a sentence under two misdemeanors, both of which could be dismissed if he stays out of trouble for the next 24 months.

Such a deal is a sign that prosecutors had a weak case, and Sineni was able to bargain away the most serious charges by acknowledging that there would have been enough evidence to find him guilty of assault and disorderly conduct, though he did not admit to any wrongdoing.

Judge Moskowitz began Monday’s hearing with an order that the media not report testimony by Winona Hichborn, Sineni’s ex-girlfriend. In her testimony, Hichborn, who shares three children with Sineni, described the couple’s 11-year relationship and made claims of domestic abuse.

Maybe because of the apparent lack of evidence to back up those claims, or maybe because of the outsized attention this case has received because of Sineni’s prominence, perhaps the judge felt it necessary to keep that testimony from the public eye.

But in a judicial system that depends on transparency, that’s not his decision to make. The law is clear that these kinds of court proceedings are public, in cases large and small, high-profile and relatively anonymous. Charges are allegations of crimes not only against particular victims but also against the whole state. The public is a party to the case and has the right to know how it is resolved.

In ordering even partial media silence, Moskowitz took those rights away. He also granted Sineni a courtesy almost without precedent.

Moskowitz has rightly reopened the hearing today and should take the opportunity to make sure that all of the information that should be public is finally put before the public, where it belongs.

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