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Order barring media from reporting identifying information upheld

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Order barring media from reporting identifying information upheld 11/17/97 MASSACHUSETTS--In late October, a mid-level appellate court in Boston upheld a…

Order barring media from reporting identifying information upheld

11/17/97

MASSACHUSETTS–In late October, a mid-level appellate court in Boston upheld a juvenile court judge’s decision opening to the public the trial of a couple accused of serving alcohol to minors but forbidding the news media to publish any identifying information about the minors testifying in court.

Relying on a 1996 Massachusetts case, Associate Judge Roderick Ireland held that maintaining the confidentiality of juvenile proceedings was a compelling state interest that overrode the public’s First Amendment right of access to the proceedings.

The (Quincy) Patriot Ledger is planning an appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court, the highest state court, on the grounds that it is unconstitutional to restrict public access to criminal trials of adults without a compelling reason for secrecy. The court denied the newspaper’s request to delay the trial until the appeal is resolved.

Mary McCallum, a judge in the juvenile division of the Norfolk County District Court in Stoughton, is presiding over the case of Robert and Andrea Berkowitz of Sharon, charged with 10 counts of serving alcohol to a minor and with contributing to the delinquency of a minor after they allegedly served beer and liquor to their son and his friends at their home last June.

The case against them was transferred out of the general division in August based on a state law that gives juvenile courts jurisdiction over charges of contributing to delinquency of a minor.

McCallum entered the order in response to a motion filed by the Ledger after McCallum closed her courtroom during the first pretrial hearing in the case in mid-September. During a hearing on the matter, counsel for the Berkowitzes said that state law gives juvenile judges the right to exclude the public from their courtrooms, and that closure was necessary to protect juveniles “from the prying eyes of the public.”

Counsel for the Ledger argued that the order constituted a prior restraint, and that the press should not be barred from reporting the identities of witnesses when anyone who walks into the courtroom will be able to see them.

In Massachusetts, juvenile court proceedings generally are closed to the public, except for cases in which minors are charged with specific serious crimes. The trial of adults in juvenile court is restricted to cases in which they are charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. (Massachusetts v. Berkowitz; Media Counsel: Sarah Columbia, Boston)