Judges James P. Doherty, Jr., Ellis J. Daigle, Alonzo Harris and Donald W. Hebert issued an en banc order(from the bench with no motion by any third party) to Clerk of Court Charles Jagneaux and his employees to in effect closely guard such case files.
The ruling comes on the heels of Jagneaux’s opening such file access last week after determining following media complaints that public access restrictions previously imposed by his office were outside the bounds of its authority.
The judges of the 27th Judicial District responded promptly with a clearly worded directive.
“It is hereby ordered, adjudged and decreed that all criminal records maintained by the Clerk of Court’s Office involving crimes made reference to ... will be sealed from public view with the exception of certified court minutes in such proceedings, which will be available for review by the general public, upon specific request for such same, and all such minutes will be redacted (edited) to prevent disclosure of information which could identify or lead to the identity of the victim of the categories of criminal acts made reference to in said section of said statute,” the jurists decreed.
Such rule is not in effect in other area parishes.
The 27th District judges do not respond to questions about the issue or the order, or apparently any other matter raised by the media.
But their action, as noted in the order, is under the provisions of Revised Statute 46, a portion of which mandates care be taken to restrict public disclosure or public knowledge of the names of sex-crime victims.
It does not require restricted or closed case files but does impose responsibility to protect victims’ anonymity.
The crimes involved, according to the statute, are aggravated rape, forcible rape, simple rape, sexual battery, second degree sexual battery, oral sexual battery, intentional exposure to the AIDS virus, stalking, incest, aggravated incest, felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile, indecent behavior with juveniles, pornography involving juveniles, molestation of a juvenile, crime against nature, aggravated crime against nature, sexual battery of the infirm and video voyeurism.
Since the judges don’t comment, it can only be surmised that their action is a cautionary blanket response to the directive of RS 46, one which minimizes the possibility of unintentional release of prohibited information.
And the judges seem to have the intent of the Legislature, which adopted the statute, on their side.
RS 46 also stipulates:
“In recognition of the civic and moral duty of victims and witnesses of crime to cooperate fully and voluntarily with law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies, and in further recognition of the continuing importance of such citizen cooperation to state and local law enforcement efforts and the general effectiveness and well-being of the criminal justice system of this state, the legislature declares its intent, in this Chapter, to ensure that all victims and witnesses of crime are treated with dignity, respect, courtesy, and sensitivity, and that the rights extended in this Chapter to victims and witnesses of crime are honored and protected by the law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and judges in a manner no less vigorous than the protection afforded the criminal defendants.”
At the intersection of the public’s right to know and a victim’s rights, RS 46 seems clearly to fall with the victim.
As a consequence of the order, access is denied to documents, motions, etc. that are routinely part of the public record in other cases.
Stipulations, per curiam (from the bench) directives, etc. are not normally elaborated on in court minutes and have to be read in order to secure details about the progress, or lack thereof, of a case through the system.
That reading by persons outside the system is no longer permissible.
However, minutes do reflect setting of hearing dates, jury selection and trial dates, as well as sentencing when, or if, an accused is sent to pre-trial diversion, pleads guilty or is convicted.
They also reflect dismissal if the case is dropped or an acquittal occurs.
Under Louisiana law victims are required to be notified of most court appearances by their alleged attackers and in most instances are given the opportunity speak before sentencing occurs.
Minutes may or may not reflect whether such notifications are made.