Should Civil Defendants Accused of Sexual Assault Be Allowed to Proceed Pseudonymously?
A well-crafted argument from a Connecticut court filing, which also rests in part on the plaintiff’s request to proceed pseudonymously. (Alleged sexual victims are often allowed to proceed pseudonymously in civil cases.) But how is this case different from criminal sexual assault prosecutions, where the defendant is routinely named? And is it different enough from civil lawsuits over other serious but nonsexual intentional behavior—e.g., alleged fraud or even alleged intentional homicide—where the accusations against a potentially innocent defendant can still badly damage the defendant’s reputation, even if the defendant is eventually vindicated in court?
From a motion in Doe v. Yellowbrick Real Estate LLC (Conn. Super. Ct.):
Plaintiff filed her Complaint under a pseudonym, claiming that her allegations of sexual assault raise privacy rights that override the public’s interest in knowing her identity. The Court granted preliminary relief pursuant to Practice Book § 11-20A and scheduled a hearing regarding Plaintiff’s continued use of a pseudonym for August 17, 2020. During that hearing, the Court (Krumeich, J.) granted the Plaintiff’s request to submit additional evidence in support of her motion, and agreed to continue the hearing to a later date to allow her to do so….
The Defendant denies the allegations in Plaintiff’s Complaint and in the Affidavit supporting her application to proceed under a pseudonym, and will vigorously defend the salacious claims made against him. Nevertheless, Defendant will suffer irreparable and unnecessary injury if the Plaintiff’s allegations against him remain open to the public. Accordingly, the Defendant moves the Court to allow him to use a pseudonym in this case and that the Court’s file be sealed to protect his interests….
When deciding a motion seeking permission to use a pseudonym, “the trial court must consider whether a substantial privacy interest exists to override the public’s interest in open judicial proceedings. Such consideration is not reserved solely for questions of court closure or the sealing of documents, but extends to whether any individual may proceed by a pseudonym.” The burden is on the party moving to proceed anonymously ….
“[N]ot all substantial privacy interests are sufficient to outweigh the public’s interest in open judicial proceedings. The ultimate test for permitting a [party] to proceed anonymously is whether the [party] has a substantial privacy right which outweighs the customary and constitutionally-embedded presumption of openness in judicial proceedings … A party’s desire to avoid economic and social harm as well as embarrassment and humiliation in his professional and social community is normally insufficient to permit him to appear without disclosing his identity …
“The most compelling situations [for granting a motion to proceed anonymously] involve matters which are highly sensitive, such as social stigmatization, real dange
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