UPDATE: Journalism groups file brief in Conn. prior restraint case

December 2, 2014 08:45

UPDATED 12/5/14

RTDNA, along with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and dozens of other journalism groups and media outlets have filed a brief with the Connecticut Supreme Court, in regard to a now-vacated order from a judge that would have prevented a newspaper from printing a story about court documents now under seal.

As we reported below, the case involves a child custody issue that had first been a matter in adult court but was moved to juvenile court, thereby sealing records of the case. The Connecticut Law Journal had planned to run a story based on court documents that were once public record but are now under seal. The judge in the case had ordered the paper not to run the story, later rescinding that order. But the order and the judge's reversal are part of the documentation of the case. Because those documents remain under seal, judges in future cases would be unaware of the order or its eventual dispensation.

As a result, the newspaper decided to continue pursing its appeal in the state's Supreme Court, in order to secure a ruling preventing future judges from issuing orders that amount to prior restraint. Any Supreme Court ruling on the issue would become part of the public record and solidify precedent. We will continue to monitor the case and watch for a ruling from the Connecticut Supreme Court.

UPDATED 12/3/14 
The judge in a Connecticut child custody case has vacated an earlier order enjoining a newspaper from publishing a story based on documents in a case that were once open to the public but are now under seal. As the Hartford Courant reports, the state's Supreme Court will still review the decision and issue a ruling on the issues raised in the appeal of that order.

The case had originally started in adult court, which meant documents related to the proceedings were part of the public record and posted on the court's own website. The judge then moved the case into juvenile court, thereby sealing the records from the public. The Connecticut Law Tribune had planned to publish a story based on the previously public documents, but the judge ordered them not to run the story. After a strong reaction from media and press freedom organizations including RTDNA, which held that the order amounted to prior restraint, prohibited under the First Amendment and long-standing precedent, the judge reversed his decision, allowing the paper to run the story. The documents of the case remain under seal, however. The ruling and its reversal would at this point remain out of the public record.

When asked if it would now publish the story, the paper said it would press its appeal to the Supreme Court, to allow the court to make a clear and public ruling on the issue of prior restraint and prevent judges from issuing similar orders in the future.

The Connecticut Supreme Court will rule on a judge's decision to bar a newspaper from printing a story about a child protection case which relies on court documents once public but now under seal.

As we reported on Monday, the decision was the subject of a lengthy hearing. Lawyers for the families involved argued the case had been correctly moved into the juvenile justice system, which keeps details of the case confidential. Free speech advocates, including RTDNA, filed a brief saying the decision to block information which had previously been public, amounted to prior restraint.

According to the Hartford Courant, the state's Supreme Court will examine the issue, taking up the case directly from the appellate court level. No timeline was given for a ruling.