Judge lifts order barring publication in juvenile case

Superior Court Judge Stephen Frazzini Wednesday vacated an order he issued last week barring the Connecticut Law Tribune from publishing a story about a confidential juvenile court case, the Law Tribune reported. It is now unclear whether the case ultimately will be decided by the state Supreme Court.

An order from a judge barring publication of a news story — known as a prior restraint — is rare and faces a high Consitutional bar. The Law Tribune said that Daniel Klau, the lawyer who represented it in the case, said that the injunction barring publication had been lifted, but that all documents and orders in the case remained sealed.

The case in question involves three children who were removed from their parents’ custody and put into foster care eight months ago by the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, which investigates cases of child abuse and neglect.

Judge Frazzini held an open court hearing on Monday to reconsider a Nov. 24 order, which granted a request from the child’s mother to bar the Law Tribune from publishing.

During the hearing, the guardian ad litem, who acts as an attorney for the children, and the attorney for the mother both praised the judge’s earlier ruling.

“I think it’s not in the children’s best interest for this story to be reported . . . These children have been through enough,” guardian ad litem Susan Cousineau told the judge. “These are confidential proceedings for a reason.”

Steven Dembo, the mother’s attorney, said he was “proud” of the judge’s ruling barring publication. Advocates for keeping the proceedings private said that making them public could prevent cases of abuse and neglect from being reported to authorities because of fear the public spotlight could harm vulnerable children.

Dembo did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on whether he would appeal to the Supreme Court.

Klau argued Monday that ordering a publication not to print a story violates First Amendment rights.

“There is a compelling interest in confidentiality in juvenile proceedings, but that does not outweigh the First Amendment rights of the press to publish information freely,” Klau said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, two open-government organizations and more than a dozen media associations and individual news organizations, including The Connecticut Mirror, also objected to the prior restraint order by filing a “friend of the court” brief with the Supreme Court.

The brief argued that the state Constitution has an even stronger prohibition against prior restraint than the U.S. Constitution, and that abuses of free speech rights are subject to punishment after publication.

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