Judge denies move to seal student records in landmark case
Student academic records to be used in a landmark education lawsuit will not be sealed in the upcoming trial, a Superior Court judge has ruled.
“This will not be a trial decided by secret evidence,” Superior Court Judge Kevin Dubay said in a hearing earlier this month. He denied a request by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding to seal the academic records of student plaintiffs challenging the adequacy and fairness of funding for Connecticut’s schools.
CCJEF attorney Megan Bannigan argued that the personal nature of the records, which include information about doctor’s notes and special education, among other things, warranted their being sealed.
Dubay disagreed. He said sealing the records was not the best course of action for a public trial.
Dubay suggested that the parties discuss the issue and see if they could agree to “redact the names, or substitute initials,” rather than seal the records.
“I’m happy to comply with a request that agrees with the law of the State of Connecticut and of the public court,” Dubay said.
Bannigan agreed. “We’re happy to proceed if the defense agrees not to use the names,” she said.
Defense attorneys for the state were not opposed to redacting the names, and agreed to discuss the details in later meetings between the parties.
The records will be evidence for the CCJEF v. Rell lawsuit, which is going to trial after nine years of pre-trial motions and other litigation. The trial was ordered by the Supreme Court, which in 2010 ruled that the Connecticut Constitution requires that the state provide students with an ‘adequate’ education. The trial will determine whether Connecticut’s system of funding schools is providing that adequate education to students.
Though the trial was scheduled to take place in early September, it has now been delayed until Jan. 6, 2015.
“The January trial date will enable CCJEF to gather information from the Fall term of the 2014-15 school year and give additional time for other evidence collection,” said CCJEF Project Director Dianne Kaplan deVries.
The coalition’s president, Herb Rosenthal, said that the delay, if anything, would help their case.
“This is but an inconsequential delay in our decade-long struggle to make sure that school children will have their day in court,” Rosenthal said. “Moving the trial date to January can only strengthen our case and heighten our resolve.”
Jaclyn Falkowski, spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General, said that the delay was agreed upon by both parties.
“The state and the plaintiffs in this case agreed to the rescheduled trial date as it became clear that plaintiffs needed additional time to respond to court-approved discovery requests,” Falkowski said. “We believe that a new trial date was necessary for the state to have a fair opportunity to defend this lawsuit, which seeks billions in additional taxpayer-funded education funding each year.”
During the hearing on July 16, Dubay dismissed a number of objections raised by CCJEF regarding the state’s request for information. The coalition claimed that the volume of the request was burdensome.
Bannigan said that the defense had requested “all of the documents we have regarding the case.”
The defense made the request approximately three months ago, and defense attorney Joseph Rubin expressed frustration that they did not yet have the information.
Bannigan said that the plaintiffs were moving as quickly as they could.
“We were founded when this case first started in order to bring it to court,” Bannigan said. “So the defense is asking for every document we have ever touched.”
“We have 550,000 documents, at least,” Bannigan said. “I happen to know that that’s a low number, not up to date.”
Bannigan said that the plaintiffs are willing to comply with the request, but that it would take a significant amount of time.
“We have to review all 550,000 documents, many of which are not likely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence,” Bannigan said.
Judge Dubay was unsympathetic. “It isn’t up to you to determine what is and what is not likely to lead to admissible evidence,” he said. He continued by saying that the plaintiffs need to turn over the documentation to the defense, and overruled the objection.
The judge became frustrated when Rubin continued to press the court to take further action regarding the delay.
“What are you asking me?” Dubay asked. “Surely you’re not asking me to say they lose because they aren’t producing this information?”
“No,” Rubin said, “But I’d request an order of compliance with a very short time limit.”
The objection was just one of a list of such objections made by the plaintiffs, all of a very similar nature. Dubay eventually decided that the issues would be better addressed out of the courtroom, and ordered that the parties meet to discuss the situation before another hearing which took place later the next week.
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