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Hartford Courant Company v. Carroll

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  1. Court Access

Case Number: 3:19-cv-01951

Court: U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut

Clients: Hartford Courant

Complaint Filed: Dec. 11, 2019

Background: The Connecticut General Assembly passed the Juvenile Transfer Act in July 2019. The law, which went into effect in October 2019, restricts public access to records involving defendants between the ages of 15 and 18 who are charged with committing some of the most serious felonies, and whose cases are transferred to adult criminal court.

Even though these teenage defendants will be tried as adults, the law stipulates that any records of the proceedings “shall be confidential … unless and until the court or jury renders a verdict or a guilty plea is entered.” The law prohibits members of the press and the public from attending courtroom proceedings or inspecting court records in such cases.

In a federal lawsuit, the Hartford Courant argued that the Juvenile Transfer Act creates a new “statutory secrecy scheme” that violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Connecticut Constitution. The lawsuit urged the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut to declare the law unconstitutional and order court officials to unseal judicial records in Transferred Matters.

Quote: “Openness is a bedrock feature of our criminal justice system. Connecticut’s Juvenile Transfer Act is flatly inconsistent with the longstanding and constitutionally guaranteed right of reporters and other members of the public to attend criminal proceedings and to review court dockets and other records in criminal cases,” said Reporters Committee Legal Director Katie Townsend.

Co-counsel: William S. Fish Jr. of Hinckley Allen & Snyder LLP

Update: On July 24, 2020, a federal judge granted the Hartford Courant’s motion for a preliminary injunction, ordering the unsealing of all judicial records in cases transferred from juvenile court to adult criminal court. The order applies to cases transferred before the judge’s ruling. It also enjoins court officials from automatically sealing newly filed judicial records involving the transfer of juvenile cases to adult court. On Sept. 23, 2020, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit granted the defendants’ request for an order staying enforcement of the district court’s preliminary injunction while the appeal is pending. The court also ordered an expedited briefing schedule. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s preliminary injunction order on Feb. 1, 2021. “[W]e hold that the Courant has a qualified First Amendment right of access to criminal prosecutions of juveniles in regular criminal court,” Judge Denny Chin wrote in the Second Circuit’s opinion. “We further hold that the Act infringes on that right because it is not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. Accordingly, we agree with the district court that the Act is unconstitutional.”

Filings:

2019-12-11: Complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief

2020-7-24: Ruling granting preliminary injunction

2021-02-01: Second Circuit opinion affirming preliminary injunction