State Trooper Suing Andrew Cuomo for Harassment Can Be Pseudonymous, Because the Case Is “High-Profile”
The public generally has a right to access court records, including in civil cases—a right that is intended to “protect the public’s ability to oversee and monitor the workings of the Judicial Branch.” And this right extends to knowing the names of the parties:
[L]awsuits are public events and the public has a legitimate interest in knowing the facts involved in them. Among the facts is the identity of the parties. We think that as a matter of policy the identity of the parties to a lawsuit should not be concealed except in the unusual case.
“The Court is a public institution and the public has a right to look over our shoulders and see who is seeking relief in public court.” (All quotes are from various federal court opinions on the subject; for citations and more, see here.)
Such access to parties’ names is of course also important so that reporters, researchers, activists, and others can investigate the backstory behind a case, and behind the credibility of the parties. (Have they brought similar claims before? Is there reason to especially trust or doubt their assertions? What can their acquaintances and coworkers report about the supposed underlying incidents?) The richest news stories about lawsuits, of course, come not from just covering the filed documents, but by exploring this sort of backstory. And because the right here is a right of the public, the defendant’s agreeing to a plaintiff’s pseudonymous request (which is what happened in this case) isn’t enough to defeat the right.
This having been said, courts do sometimes allow pseudonymous litigation. It’s particularly common in purely legal challenges (e.g., Roe v. Wade), where the identity of the party is largely beside the point; and it also sometimes arises when a lawsuit is over matters “of the utmost intimacy,” such as abortion, transgender status, and the like.
This brings us to Trooper 1 v. N.Y. State Police, decided Thursday by Magistrate Judge Taryn Merkl (E.D.N.Y.):
On February 17, 2022, Trooper 1 …, a member of former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Protective Service Unit, initiated this action alleging that former Governor Cuomo sexually harassed her and other state employees. The complaint names as Defendants the New York State Police … former Governor Andrew Cuomo …, Melissa DeRosa …, and Richard Azzopardi …. Plaintiff is claiming, among other things, discrimination and retaliation in violation of the federal Equal Protection Clause, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law….
The alleged sexual harassment was:
He then sexually harassed her. He commented on her appearance (“why don’t you wear a dress?”); wanted to kiss her (“[c]an I kiss you?”); asked her to find him a girlfriend who could “handle pain;” and steered their conversations towards sex (“[w]hy would you want to get married? … your sex drive goes down”). As with his other victims, the G
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