Judge won't seal group sex assault case

Hartford - A judge on Monday rejected requests to seal the entire file and close the courtroom to the public in the case of a teenage girl suing several boys she accuses of group sexual assault.

New Haven Superior Court Judge Jonathan Silbert ruled that the girl and the seven boys can use pseudonyms, but he said their interests don't outweigh the public's interest in open courts.

Silbert noted that the case involves a number of issues of social importance.

"These include parental responsibility for the alleged torts of their children, the legal responsibilities of adults who host parties for children at their homes, and the practice commonly known as "sexting,"' he said.

The Madison girl and her mother are suing the boys and their parents on allegations she was sexually assaulted when she was 13 by five defendants on New Year's Eve 2009 at one boy's home.

Lawyers for some of the boys said the case involved inappropriate touching. Another boy was accused of taking a photo on his cellphone during the incident and showing it to others. All the teens then attended Polson Middle School in affluent Madison.

Lawyers for the girl and some of the boys had asked the judge to seal the case, arguing that it was necessary to protect the minors' privacy and protect them against social stigmatization because they're still in school.

The AP objected to the proposed sealing during a hearing before Silbert last month.

In his ruling, Silbert noted that he found no other case in which the entire file was sealed since 2002, when a Judicial Branch practice called "super-sealing" was publicly revealed. The revelation of super-sealed cases - which were so secret that officials wouldn't even confirm their existence - led to judicial officials to abolish the practice and change the sealing rules.

He also ruled that the boys' parents cannot use pseudonyms.

Rich Hanley, an associate professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University, said the judge appeared to be striking a balance - like the media does when reporting sexual assault cases - between protecting victims and allowing the public to be informed about important social issues through open courts.

"The whole file shouldn't be sealed because there are clear public policy considerations, based on the whole concept of parental responsibility," Hanley said.

He added, "Obviously, the more open a court is, the more transparent it is. It's the foundation of America's court system."

The girl's lawyer, Matthew Auger, who was seeking to seal the file, declined to comment Monday on the ruling.

Some details of the assault allegations had already been made public in a federal lawsuit the girl and her mother filed against Madison school officials in September. They say school officials, after learning about the assault allegations, failed to discipline the boys, allowed them to remain in school and took no actions to prevent the boys from having contact with the girl while in school. School officials have denied the allegations.

The boys were criminally charged in juvenile court. A parent of one of the boys told the AP that all the boys pleaded no contest and were sentenced to probation and community service.

The lawsuit accuses the parents who hosted the party of not properly supervising the gathering and other parents for their responsibility for their children's conduct.

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