Pseudonymous complaint allowed in sex offender law challenge
ALASKA–In early September, a federal appeals court panel in San Francisco (9th Cir.) unanimously held that plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of Alaska’s Sex Offender Registration Act could file a pseudonymous complaint in federal district court.
The appellate panel said that the public’s First Amendment right of access to court documents and proceedings was “subordinate” to the plaintiffs’ interest in resolving their challenge to a governmental policy.
Two convicted sex offenders and the wife of one who filed the complaint used pseudonyms to prevent disclosure of their identities. The district court in Anchorage ordered them to file an amended complaint using their true names. When they refused to comply, the court dismissed the action.
The plaintiffs appealed, and the appellate court reversed the district court. The appellate court said that although the First Amendment creates a presumption of public access to judicial processes and records, a litigant may overcome the presumption by demonstrating an overriding interest in favor of protecting his identity.
The court reasoned that none of the values protected by public access, such as assuring fair factual findings and legal conclusions and enhancing public confidence in the administration of law, would be hindered by the use of pseudonyms.
Specifically, the court said that the issues raised by the case are purely legal and do not depend on identifying the specific plaintiffs, and that the public, as well as the plaintiffs, would benefit when the case proceeds to a resolution on the merits. (Doe v. Alaska; Appellant’s Counsel: Verne Rupright, Anchorage)