Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Connecticut reconsiders prior restraint

I mentioned this free speech case, and it has a rushed appeal:
The state Supreme Court will consider arguments about a judge's rare ruling barring the Connecticut Law Tribune from publishing a story about a child protection case.

The state's highest court's decision came as lawyers in the case argued Monday about the prior restraint during an emergency hearing in Superior Court called Friday by Judge Stephen Frazzini. Frazzini's ruling, issued Nov. 24, has prompted harsh criticism from free-speech advocates but applause from those who argue that privacy issues in child protection cases trump First Amendment rights.
This case has gotten other publicity outside legal circles, and the court is very likely to allow publication. I do not see how the order can be upheld under US Supreme Court precedents, like the Pentagon Papers case.

But the issue is not going away.
In juvenile cases in Connecticut, judges have the discretion to allow only certain participants from attending court proceedings. State law says the court "may, for the child's safety and protection and for good cause shown, prohibit any person or representative of any agency, entity or association, including a representative of the news media, who is present in court from further disclosing any information that would identify the child, the custodian or caretaker of the child or the members of the child's family" involved in the hearing.

"This is a child protection case," Dembo said, adding that the matter went beyond the question of custody of the three children involved in the case. "Let me say that again. Child protection," he said.

Reversing or modifying the ruling could embolden the court to end the presumption of child confidentiality, he said. Dembo said while he favored a "robust press," he said he felt "proud" last week when Frazzini granted his request.
My guess is that the court will allow the newspaper to publish its story, but the juvenile courts will be more aggressive about keeping reporters out of court in the first place.

Compared to the rest of the world, we have very liberal free speech and free press law in the USA, except for one area: child porn. On that issue, protection of the child has convinced everyone that very draconian censorship laws are necessary. Parents have even been prosecuted for taking pictures of their own kids in the bathtub. The question of whether such child protections can be extended to other areas has not be so fully litigated. In this CT case, it may be just a routine divorce with over-dramatized child-care accusations, and the court secrecy actions are really to protect the adults.

Update: (Dec. 12) CT supreme court overruled the order.

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