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Newspaper opens financial records in custody hearing

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  1. Court Access

    NMU         MISSISSIPPI         Secret Courts         Nov 13, 2001    

Newspaper opens financial records in custody hearing

  • The state Supreme Court granted a Memphis publishing company the right to view the financial records of a boy involved in a custody case.

The Mississippi Supreme Court recently held that a Memphis, Tenn., newspaper could view the financial records of a child involved in a custody case that had been twice closed for court hearings.

The state Supreme Court on Oct. 18 determined that a lower court improperly sealed some records.

The Memphis Publishing Company, publisher of The Commercial Appeal, was granted the right to access the financial records of Travis Butler but denied access to other records. The decision came after publishing company filed a second request for records in the custody case, In the Matter of the Guardianship of Travis Leland Butler, a Minor.

The publishing company first sought the records on May 12, 2000. The Mississippi Supreme Court reviewed the application and vacated an order from the Leake County Chancery Court that closed all hearings to the public and the press. Justice William Waller said any further consideration on restrictions of the press in this case must comply with previous court rulings that opened some custody records and left others sealed.

The Leake County Chancery Court held a subsequent hearing and closed the case again.

The Supreme Court said lower courts could close hearings and records involving “confidential or sensitive testimony or other evidence that may detrimentally affect the emotional well-being of the children involved.”

But it said financial records are another matter and unsealed those in the Butler case.

“Matters concerning the estate of the minor child are financial matters which are due no such protection,” the court wrote. “We find that these matters, as to both hearings and the case file, should be open to the public.”

The case involved a young boy from Memphis who hid his mother’s dead body in his house, fearing he would be sent to a foster home if someone found the body. Butler concealed his mother’s body for 33 days, until a family friend discovered it. The case received a vast amount of media attention in the state and elsewhere. Butler’s grandmother, Shirley Wiler, was granted temporary custody of her grandson in December 1999.

(In Re: Memphis Publishing Co.) HP

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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