New Haven Superior Court Judge Jonathan Silbert made the right call in refusing to close his courtroom and seal court records in the case of a teenage girl who is suing several boys for allegedly sexually assaulting her, and their parents for failing to provide proper supervision.
Both the girl's attorney and attorneys for some of the boys had sought to close the courtroom to the public and seal the entire file. The Associated Press objected.
While it is understandable why all involved would just as soon keep this ugly matter secret, the potential embarrassment or discomfort of plaintiffs and defendants cannot be the standard for whether courtrooms are open. Open courtrooms and access to court files are among the bedrock foundations of America's judicial system, a safeguard against abuse and favoritism.
While the law closes most criminal proceedings involving juveniles, this case is a civil matter, involving a citizen using the public court system to raise allegations and extract compensation from other citizens. There should be no expectation that a plaintiff can expect to pursue a lawsuit without a public adjudication of the allegations.
As Judge Silbert noted, this case in particular raises issues of significant 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,'" said Judge Silbert.
He did strike a reasonable balance, however, in ruling that the girl and the accused boys can use pseudonyms. The Day and most news organizations do not publish the names of alleged sexual assault victims.
The girl and her mother contend that the boys sexually assaulted the girl, then 13, at a 2009 New Year's Eve party at one of the boy's homes. All involved lived in the affluent community of Madison.
In 2002 the judicial abuse known as the "super-sealing" of cases - kept so secret that clerks could not even reveal their existence - came to light, much to the shame of Connecticut's court system. Most cases involved powerful, influential individuals. Judicial officials abolished the practice and Judge Silbert acted forthrightly in preventing any backsliding.