No Sealing or Pseudonymity for Sexual Assault Defendant

Chalmers, for J.C.The case, which was decided by Magistrate Judge Reid Neureiter of D. Colo yesterday, concerned a suit alleging sexual abuse perpetrated by the plaintiff’s maternal grandfather. A criminal investigation was closed without the filing of any charges. The defense sought to seal or at the very least, to continue under an assumed name, as it was based on:

Notwithstanding his denials, Defendant asserts that merely being associated with such allegations in public court documents will do irreparable harm to his reputation and standing in the community….. It would be unfair to him to be exposed to speculation and uninformed judgements in the court of general opinion before he can challenge the truth of these allegations.

According to the court, no

We start with the assumption that judges have the obligation to keep the judiciary secretive, hidden from the public and avoid in-camera hearings. The public has the right to use the courts as public institutions. A superficial understanding of the history of our judiciary forces one to realize that secret court proceedings can be a threat to freedom. “[L]Awsuits are open to the public and they have a legitimate right to be known.”

There is a strong presumption that documents essential to the judicial process are to be available to the public…. This presumption can be overturned if the parties seeking to restrict records access “articulate.”[s]There is a substantial, real, and compelling interest in denying public access to information records. [the court’s] decision-making process.” …

In this instance, the defendant hasn’t made enough evidence to warrant either limiting the case in its entirety or allowing him to be identified only by his initials. It is insufficient to suggest that he has suffered clear harm by simply being named as the defendant in a suit alleging sexual assault. The public can seek judicial relief through a lawsuit for an injury. The public has an interest in the allegations of a lawsuit, the nature of the claims being made, and the parties involved…. The public is interested in the court’s decision making process and the fairness of the cases.

At the same time, the public should know that a complaint filed in court is nothing more than a claim—an allegation—and nothing has yet been proved. The allegation is denied by the defendant in this case. While people who hear about this case might make some assumptions about what happened, as far as we know, these allegations are only allegations. A lawsuit alleging sexual abuse does not cause any harm. It doesn’t justify hiding this case behind a veil. The District of Utah Magistrate Judge Bennett held that denying a defendants’ motion to complete seal a case was not appropriate because there was a litigant in the suit who made false and harmful claims.

Nearly all US Courts civil and criminal lawsuits are filed by one side claiming that another party’s allegations against them are false. The result of litigation could quickly support this claim. If the allegations in the complaint were false enough to close a case, the law will recognize that there is a presumption for sealing the entire case.

Miller v. Fluent Home, LLC (D. Utah 2020).

Although it may seem unfair, the victim is only identified by his initials. The full name of the defendant is made public. The victim was a minor. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (5.2(a)(3) states that minor lawsuits must be filed using the minor’s name and initials. The identity of the accused in sexual assault cases is not protected by a similar law.

One final reason this case shouldn’t be limited or the initials of the Defendant kept secret is because of one last thing. Greeley Police Department already has a report that outlines the events leading to this case. This document can be accessed by the public via a search of public records. Restricting this case to conceal material that is already publicly available serves no legitimate purpose and runs counter to the general principle that court proceedings and filings should be open to the public….

This view is shared by the vast majority of courts who have heard such cases; defendants in civil or criminal sexual assault cases are typically named. There are exceptions, however. See, for example, here. This draft article explains the entire law surrounding pseudonymous litigation.