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N.H. Supreme Court panel votes against shielding victims’ identities 

  • New Hampshire assistant attorney general Geoffrey Ward argues for the state before the N.H. State Supreme Court Wednesday Nov. 16, 2016, in Concord, N.H., during the formal appeal of Seth Mazzaglia's life sentence in the killing of Elizabeth "Lizzi" Marriott. (Geoff Forester/The Concord Monitor via AP, Pool) Geoff Forester



Monitor staff
Friday, June 08, 2018

A proposed rule change to obscure the identities of crime victims in public documents filed with the state’s highest court was voted down 8-6 by an advisory panel on Friday.

The proposal to protect crime victims’ names, addresses, places of employment and other personal information had been before the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Rules since summer 2017. The change before the committee, which includes judges, attorneys and legislators as members, would have granted crime victims anonymity in all briefs, petitions, motions or memorandums filed at the Supreme Court, instead of on a case-by-case basis, which is present practice.

Leaders in the victim-advocacy community and the state’s top prosecutors backed the adoption of the rule, saying it shielded victims from revictimization and exploitation, especially given that Supreme Court decisions are easily accessible online.

“The implications of these decisions are very real – as are the privacy concerns of those who have been victimized. Unfortunately, all too often victims are faced with choosing between seeking justice and maintaining some semblance or privacy in the wake of a crime. Sadly, the committee did not see the value in adopting a modest measure that would have gone a long way in addressing the concerns of crime victims,” Amanda Grady Sexton, the director of public affairs for the N.H. Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said in a statement.

The New Hampshire Press Association had opposed the rule change, arguing that it undermines government transparency as established in the state Constitution and public records laws. The rule change defined a victim in overly broad terms, the press association argued, and removed the discretion of judges.

“The Press Association’s board viewed the proposed rule as a bad solution to a non-problem. The Supreme Court already has very good rules in place that allow it, after careful consideration, to withhold the identities of victims when it is appropriate,” Philip Kincade, the executive director of the N.H. Press Association, said in a statement.

As a matter of general practice, news outlets, including the Monitor, do not name the victims of sex crimes in articles without the expressed consent of the victim.

Grady Sexton questioned why a significant potential rule change had gone largely unnoticed despite the number of people it would have affected. Three people spoke at a public hearing last week, and three letters were submitted to the committee in the days prior, according to a prior Monitor report.

“Ironically, considering the committee’s overwhelming interest in preserving the public’s right to know details about crime victims lives and identities, one would assume these proceedings would be more highly publicized,” she said.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)