The announced plan by a Long Island attorney to release an internal police document purportedly finding "massive violations and failures by multiple members of the Nassau County Police" suffered a serious setback Jan. 14 when the court for Eastern District of New York granted a protective order that restricted access to the Internal Affairs Unit Report by the Nassau County Police Department.
According to the court's opinion, plaintiff Sharon Dorsett brought suit, alleging that the County of Nassau, Nassau County Police Department, Office of the Nassau County District Attorney and members of the police department were complicit in the murder of Dorsett's daughter by Leonardo Valdez-Cruz, who was convicted of murder last year.
As part of the case, Dorsett requested a copy of the Internal Affairs Unit Report. The court instructed the members of the police department to file a protective order before Sept. 3, 2010, if they wanted to maintain confidentiality. A redacted form of the report was released to Dorsett and her attorneys in mid-September without the members of the police department seeking a protective order.
On Nov. 30, 2010, Dorsett's counsel issued a press release stating that he intended to release the report to the press and public. Upon learning of the planned release, counsel for the members of the police department filed an emergency motion “for an injunction and/or protective order prohibiting the disclosure, dissemination, release or revelation of the contents” of the Internal Affairs Unit Report, according to the court's opinion.
Magistrate Jude Kathleen Tomlinson granted a temporary restraint on release of the report and ordered the parties to file briefing on the matter. Newsday LLC and News 12 Networks jointly filed a motion to intervene in the action, which the court granted.
In the order issued Jan. 14, Tomlinson detailed each factor considered before deciding to grant the defendants' motion for a protective order.
The court acknowledged that the common law right of public access creates a presumptive right to view and copy public records, including judicial documents. But the court concluded that the Internal Affairs Unit Report is not a judicial record because it is an internal police document and was not filed with the court. Therefore, the court reasoned that the common law right of public access was not applicable in the case. Moreover, the court stated that the defendants had demonstrated good cause for keeping the document confidential.
The court also rejected the argument that the document should be disclosed under the First Amendment. The court referred back to the conclusion that the report was not a judicial document and, therefore, the court found no First Amendment right of access. The court also disagreed with the argument that restricting access to the document constituted a prior restraint on speech and concluded that the defendants had not waived their right to move for a protective order preventing the further dissemination of the report.