In a big win for access to the courts, the New Hampshire Supreme Court has ruled that court proceedings and records under the state’s sexual predator statute are open to the public. The Reporters Committee submitted a friend of the court brief in support of petitioners in the case, Newspapers of New Hampshire Inc., and the Union Leader Corporation.
In an opinion authored by Judge Linda Dalianis, the court found that New Hampshire’s explicit state constitutional guarantees to open government records and proceedings mandated that court access be presumptively open.
The court has reversed a trial court’s decision to close proceedings and seal recordings of the state’s attempts to commit defendant William DeCato under the state’s Sexually Violent Predator Act. The trial court had analogized sexual predator hearings to civil involuntary committment hearings for individuals with a mental disability. The court rejected the analogy.
Relying on previous case law, Dalianis wrote "(A)ccess is critical to ensure that court proceedings are conducted fairly and impartially and that the judical process is open and accountable."
"Public access will play an important positive role in upholding proceedings under the (act)," Dalianis wrote.
The case now returns to the trial court for an examination of any alleged privacy concerns reviewed by the court under a presumption of openness.