MO Women Denied Anonymity in Church/State Case

Here’s another example of a problem I hope my forthcoming book will help fix. A woman in Missouri has been denied the right to conceal her identity in a lawsuit challenging Christian prayers at county commission meetings. The court had initially granted a motion to file as Jane Doe but has now rescinded that after allowing both sides to brief the issue.

Plaintiff’s claim is that if her identity is made public, she will be “subjected to harassmentand retaliation.” The general rule, however, is that, “. . .lawsuits are public events and the publichas a legitimate interest in knowing the facts involved in them. Among those facts is the identityof the parties.” As other courts have explained, “There is a First Amendment interest in public proceedings, andidentifying the parties to an action is an important part of making it truly public.” Furthermore, “When a party invokes the judicial powers of the United States, she invites public scrutiny of the dispute and the proceeding. ‘The people have a right to know who is using their courts.’”

The general test for allowing a plaintiff to proceed anonymously is ‘’whether the plaintiff ‘has a substantial privacy right which outweighs the customary and constitutionally-embedded presumption of openness in judicial proceedings.’” In that regard, “The threat of hostile public reaction to a lawsuit, standing alone, will only with great rarity warrant public anonymity.” Additionally, “[t]he risk that a plaintiff may suffer some embarrassment is insufficient to permit anonymity.”

In support of her motion, plaintiff has filed an affidavit in which she states that, “I believe that I will be harassed and driven from the community if my identity as the plaintiff inthis case is publicly known.” She adds that, “Shortly after this lawsuit was filed, I attended a[commission] meeting in which one of the attendees took the microphone and proclaimed that the ‘blood of the anti-Christ flows through the ACLU.’” This incident, she says, was reported in the media. She also refers to a comment to an online newspaper story in which the person posting the comment stated that he/she will come to one of the council meetings to “investigate and find out who [plaintiff] is.”

Having carefully considered the issue, this Court determines that plaintiff’s concerns do not overcome the constitutionally-embedded presumption of openness in judicial proceedings. Plaintiff has availed herself of the court system and in doing so, she has invited public scrutiny of her claims. And as noted, a hostile public reaction and the prospect of embarrassment are insufficient to justify proceeding anonymously.

How about the prospect of being inundated with death threats and quite possibly being the victim of vandalism and violence? Because that isn’t some unlikely scenario, it is a virtual certainty.

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  • chilidog99

    “MO women,”

    (Snicker)

    Howe manny mo?

    (Sorry, but I’m still amused by the Asiana airlines pilot names buisness and am seeing puns in everyting.

  • Johnny Vector

    Well don’t worry, if she is subjected to threats and violence, then she’ll have a prima facie case that she’s right, so they can just rescind her name from the suit and everything will be fine. It’s not like they’re naming her permanently or something.

  • whheydt

    I wonder what would happen in a case like this if the plaintiff asked to file as a “Jane/John Doe” and if that is denied, that the court require a substantial bond from the defendants to cover any costs that follow from revealing the plantiffs name…such as vandalism repair, protection services, or moving.

  • http://teethofthebuzzsaw.blogspot.com Buzz Saw

    My mind is blown. Can anyone make sense out of this?

    Plaintiff has availed herself of the court system and in doing so, she has invited public scrutiny of her claims.

    And aren’t her claims essentially just about county commission meetings? I don’t see how naming her impacts any investigation/scrutiny of her claims.

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    I assume this judge would have no qualms with having his/her home address listed in the court papers as well, right?

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    How about the prospect of being inundated with death threats and quite possibly being the victim of vandalism and violence?

    Maybe she didn’t present enough evidence that this might happen? Judging by the quotes here, she only talked about the possibility of being “harassed and driven from the community,” and I guess the court didn’t think that was dire enough to merit anonymity.

    And in all fairness, the right to confront your accuser is a basic, necessary, and clearly-stated part of our justice system. (This is a major problem for the victims in rape and child-sexual-abuse cases.) I’m all in favor of protecting this person against violence and threats, but there must be a better way that isn’t wide open to abuse. I read somewhere that some corporation was suing someone anonymously, and I could easily see a gaggle of teatards and/or hysterical religious loonies using their standard persecution fantasies to justify suing their critics without leting anyone know who they are.

  • jasonfailes

    That analogy doesn’t really hold. This isn’t an individual-on-individual violent crime, but a case of the government not following its own rules. The “accuser” could be anyone, and in a way it is everyone.

  • D. C. Sessions

    I assume this judge would have no qualms with having his/her home address listed in the court papers as well, right?

    It is, every time he/she runs for re-election. Whether this has anything to do with the ruling is purely speculative.

  • D. C. Sessions

    The plaintiff is behind the times. If she were using state-of-the-art law, she would have incorporated a 501(c)3 nonprofit at a post office box in town and had it file the suit.

    Corporations are people, my friends.

  • eric

    “There is a First Amendment interest in public proceedings, andidentifying the parties to an action is an important part of making it truly public.”

    I am very supportive of public court hearings, but is this the correct amendment/part of the constitution to hang it on?

    Freedom of religion? Nope. Speech? Nope. Press or Assembly? Well, maybe these wolud apply if we were talking about preventing the public or press from being in the courtroom. But it shouldn’t prevent the court from addressing her as “Ms. Doe” or from requiring the press to call her Ms. Doe in articles. Freedom to petition the Government for Grievances? Nope – the prosecutions request IS that; they don’t have to win it to demonstrate that freedom.

  • exdrone

    Shortly after this lawsuit was filed, [she] attended a [commission] meeting in which one of the attendees took the microphone and proclaimed that the ‘blood of the anti-Christ flows through the ACLU.’

    Commission chair: “Sit down, Harold. We’re all thinking the same thing. … Anymore invectives before we pray for God’s grace?”

  • hadrian

    This was a federal court order, so the judge isn’t elected. And it’s not surprising given who the judge is. He comes from a family of prominent attorneys (and blowhards). Scroll to the bottom of that order, I dare you.