Newburyport Newspaper Wins Fight to Open Clerk-Magistrate Hearing

The Newburyport Daily News recently succeeded in opening to the public a closed clerk magistrate’s show cause hearing on a brawl that occurred outside a Plum Island beach house.

But it wasn’t without drama, including a surprise last-minute ruling by Justice Robert J. Cordy of the state Supreme Judicial Court that could help Massachusetts media gain wider access to such hearings.

Clerk magistrate show cause hearings are typically closed in Massachusetts to protect the privacy of the accused because they have not yet been formally charged. But the clerk magistrate can open a hearing if there is legitimate public interest in the proceeding.

Robert Bonin, clerk magistrate for the Newburyport District Court, declined that option when a Daily News reporter showed up at the Aug. 20 hearing on whether formal charges were warranted against seven persons police identified as parties to a vicious Plum Island street fight on Memorial Day of last year.

Peter Caruso Sr., the paper’s attorney, promptly filed a motion to open the courtroom to the public on the basis police had already released the names of the parties, the brawl had been prominently publicized in the media, and there was obvious public interest in the court proceeding.

Clerk Magistrate Bonin denied Caruso’s motion, citing the historic rights of the accused to a closed courtroom. Mere minutes before Bonin was to begin the hearing, Caruso appealed to District Judge Peter Doyle to intercede.

Doyle also rebuffed Caruso, but he did postpone the show cause hearing for an hour (to 11 a.m.) to give the paper’s attorney an ever-so-brief opportunity to appeal to the SJC. Caruso quickly scribbled his argument on legal paper and faxed it to the high court.

With the 11 o’clock hour approaching and no response, Bonin again prepared to convene the closed hearing when his phone rang. The SJC told the clerk magistrate to delay for another half-hour so Justice Cordy could research the paper’s appeal.

Then, alas, at 11:30 a.m. sharp, Cordy’s three-page ruling arrived by fax, instructing the clerk magistrate to open the hearing to the public on the ground the brawl and subsequent investigation “had a profound effect” on residents of the Plum Island neighborhood and the public perception of the police.

It was a rare victory for the public, but also a lesson in the value of the press challenging clerk magistrate show cause hearings when a significant issue is at stake.

There is latitude in the district court rule regarding such hearings.

The rule states: “If the application [for issuance of process] is one of special public significance, and if in the opinion of the magistrate the legitimate interest of the public outweighs the right of privacy in the accused, the hearing may be open to the public, and should be conducted in the formal atmosphere of a courtroom.”

Caruso called Justice Cordy’s decision a “breath of fresh air.” He said too often the media fails to challenge clerk magistrate show cause hearings because they are presumptively closed to the public.

“There are cases that cry for a full and open public airing to ease any doubt of secret dealings,” said Caruso. “The news media needs to be more aggressive in contesting the closing of the courtroom in these cases.”

Caruso knows of what he speaks. He was also the attorney who successfully opened the clerk magistrate hearing in Boston in 2003 to determine if assault and battery charges would be issued against New York Yankees pitcher Jeff Nelson and outfielder Karim Garcia for fighting with a Fenway Park groundskeeper during a playoff game.

The fight followed the infamous bench-clearing melee in the fourth inning in which Yankees coach Don Zimmer rushed Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez, who shoved Zimmer to the ground.

This post was written by William B. Ketter, vice president of news, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. CNHI owns the Newburyport newspaper.

Trooper’s Arrest Underscores Problems with Domestic Violence Secrecy Law

On Aug. 8, Gov. Patrick signed into law a bill targeting domestic violence in Massachusetts. (Chapter 260 of the Acts of 2014). This comprehensive bill included troubling and confusing provisions that severely restricted the public’s right to know about crimes committed in their communities.

Now, a newspaper reporter’s almost-accidental discovery of the domestic violence arrest of a State Trooper underscores the confusion surrounding this law and the reason why it was bad policy to begin with.

The law closed to the public and the press police reports and police logs pertaining to domestic violence. That means that if a public official or trusted person is the subject of a domestic violence complaint, the public may never know.

Earlier this week, Cape Cod Times reporter Amy Anthony, while routinely reviewing arraignment records at Barnstable District Court, came across a police report that the police say should have been secret under this law.

The report detailed the arrest of a State Trooper on Sunday for charges related to domestic violence. As Anthony’s report describes, there is significant disagreement about whether the arrest should ever have been made public under this new law.

Virtually everyone she spoke to — Sandwich police, State Police, the district attorney, and a sponsor of the bill — had different understandings of the law.

The story illustrates why this aspect law was bad policy to begin with and why it should be repealed.

Read her story here: Massachusetts Domestic Violence Law Leading to Confusion.

Robert J. Ambrogi, Esq.
MNPA Executive Director

Annual MNPA Luncheon to Feature Juliette Kayyem

Gubernatorial candidate and 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist Juliette Kayyem will be the featured speaker at the annual luncheon of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association on Thursday.

KayyemUntil launching her campaign for governor, Kayyem was a columnist for the Boston Globe, analyst for CNN, and lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. In 2013, she was a Pulitzer finalist for her series urging the Pentagon to end its female combat exclusion rule – a prohibition the military has since lifted.

Kayyem began her professional career in the Clinton administration as a civil rights attorney, litigating cases involving the rights of children. She helped bring the first federal anti-bullying case and was part of the team that argued for The Citadel and VMI military institutions to open their doors to women.

She then moved into public safety and homeland security, serving as Gov. Deval Patrick’s homeland security adviser. After several years overseeing the 8,000-plus member Massachusetts National Guard, the Commonwealth’s strategic security planning, and the distribution of homeland security funds, she was tapped by President-elect Obama to be part of his transition team and then became assistant secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security.

As assistant secretary, Kayyem was responsible for coordinating planning between the federal government and all of its state, local, and territorial partners on issues as varied as immigration, intelligence sharing, military affairs, immigration reform, and the response to crises such as H1N1, the Dec. 25 attempted terrorist attack, the Haiti earthquake and the BP oil spill. For her exemplary leadership in the wake of the BP spill, coordinating 60 federal agencies over five states, Kayyem was awarded the Coast Guard’s highest civilian honor.


Join Us for the MNPA Annual Meeting and Luncheon

Please join us for the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, at the Hyatt Boston Harbor in Boston. Our annual meeting and luncheon is you’re preeminent opportunity to meet with newspaper publishers, editors, reporters and business staff from throughout Massachusetts.

The day’s full agenda is as follows:

  • 10 a.m. Annual business meeting and election of officers and executive board.
  • 11 a.m. Panel discussion: The Massachusetts Independent Contractor Law and its Impact on Newspapers.
  • Noon. Networking reception.
  • 12:30 p.m. Luncheon and keynote (speaker to be announced).

The panel discussion of the independent contractor law will look at the impact of the law on newspapers. The panel will feature three speakers:

  • Sen. Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport),  sponsor of a bill to correct the wording of the law.
  • Mark W. Batten, a partner in the Boston office of Proskauer who represents newspapers and other businesses in labor and employment matters.
  • Aaron Julien, MNPA president and president of Newspapers of New England, who will talk about measures his company has taken as a result of the law.

The meeting is open to anyone who would like to attend. Registration, which includes lunch, is $85 for MNPA member newspapers and their employees, $95 for all others.

The registration form may be downloaded by clicking here .

If you have any questions about the event, please address them to MNPA Executive Director Robert Ambrogi, (978) 546-3400, or Registration deadline is Friday, November 29.

Registrations should be sent to: MNPA Annual Meeting, c/o New England Newspaper & Press Association, 370 Common Street, Suite 319, Dedham, MA 02026, or by fax to: (781) 320-8055.

Survey on Implementation of SJC Rule 1:19, Electronic Access to the Courts

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s Judiciary-Media Committee is conducting a survey of judges, clerks, registers, court officers, associate court officers, and media representatives to determine how SJC Rule 1:19 is working since it became effective on Sept. 17, 2012. Your answers will be valuable in helping the committee to evaluate whether to recommend changes in the rule to the SJC.

The MNPA is a member fo the Judiciary-Media Committee.

Responses to survey are due by June 11, 2013.

Access the survey via this link:

If you have any questions, please contact:

Joan Kenney
Public Information Office
Supreme Judicial Court

Aaron Julien Elected MNPA President for 2013

Aaron Julien, president and CEO of Newspapers of New England, based in Concord, N.H., and publisher of seven daily and weekly newspapers, including the Daily Hampshire Gazette, The Recorder, the Valley Advocate and the Amherst Bulletin, has been elected president of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association.

A resident of Amherst, Mass., Julien is a graduate of Middlebury College and Cornell Law School.

Also elected as officers at the association’s annual meeting were:

  • First vice president: William B. Ketter, vice president of news of Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., based in Montgomery, Ala., and owner of 15 New England newspapers, including the Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, Mass.
  • Second vice president: George Arwady, publisher and chief executive officer of The Republican of Springfield, Mass.
  • Treasurer: Sheila Smith, publisher of The Daily News of Newburyport, Mass.
  • Secretary: Bruce Gaultney, publisher of the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, Mass.

Elected to the association’s executive committee for three-year terms beginning Jan. 1 were Jim Foudy, publisher of the Daily Hampshire Gazette of Northampton, Mass.; William T. Kennedy, chief operating officer of the Dow Jones Local Media Group; and Peter Meyer, president of the Cape Cod Media Group and SouthCoast Media Group.

The annual meeting was held Nov. 29 at Anthony’s Pier Four in Boston.

Please Join Us for the MNPA Annual Meeting and Luncheon

Please join us for the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, at Anthony’s Pier Four in Boston. A registration form is available by clicking here.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley will be the featured speaker at this year’s luncheon. Re-elected to her second term as attorney general in 2010, Coakley previously served for eight years as district attorney in Middlesex County. Earlier, she was chief of the Child Abuse Unit in Middlesex. She began her legal career in 1979, practicing litigation at the firms Parker, Coulter, Daley & White and later at Goodwin Proctor. She joined the Middlesex DA’s office in 1986 and also served on the U.S. Justice Department’s Organized Crime Strike Force.

The luncheon, which begins at noon, is also your annual opportunity to meet with newspaper publishers, editors, reporters and business staff from throughout Massachusetts.

The day’s full agenda is as follows:

  • 10 a.m. Annual business meeting and election of 2013 officers and executive board.
  • 11 a.m. Panel discussion: Is the Public Records Law in Need of Reform?
  • Noon Networking reception (open bar).
  • 12:30 p.m. Luncheon and keynote featuring Martha Coakley.
  • 1:30 p.m. Adjourn.

The meeting is open to anyone who would like to attend. Registration, which includes lunch, is $75 for MNPA member newspapers and their employees, $85 for all others.

The registration form is may be downloaded by clicking here. If mailing your registration without the form, please indicate the name of each registrant and the registrant’s choice of luncheon entrée: Chicken Chausseur or Broiled Scrod.

If you have any questions about the event, please address them to MNPA Executive Director Robert Ambrogi, (978) 546-3400, or Registration deadline is Friday, Nov. 23.

We look forward to seeing you on Nov. 29.

MNPA Joins in Legal Fight for Access to Documents in Bradley Manning Court Martial

The Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 30 national and regional news organizations in a friend-of-the-court brief seeking access to documents filed in the court martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the man accused of leaking classified documents to the website Wikileaks.

The brief follows from a request by the Center for Constitutional Rights and a number of other organizations to intervene in the Manning court martial in order to obtain access to documents filed in the proceeding. The trial court denied the request, a decision that was affirmed by the military’s intermediate appellate court. CCR appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the military’s highest appellate court.

The RCFP friend-of-the-court brief support CCR’s position, arguing that the well-recognized right of public access to judicial proceedings mandates access to courts-martial documents. In cases like these, where profound issues are at stake, pervasive secrecy fuels a perception that the U.S. government keeps too many secrets, the brief argued. If the public is to have any faith in its government generally and the justice administered by military tribunals specifically, it needs to have confidence that the system is operating in the open, where potential misconduct may be exposed, it added.

Another New England organization, the New England First Amendment Center, also joined in the brief.

To read more, see Reporters Committee supports access to court filings, docket in Manning court-martial.

Search Warrant Affidavits Open to Newspaper, SJC Rules

In a victory for the news media, the Supreme Judicial Court today sided with the Quincy Patriot Ledger and ruled that the affidavit filed by police in support of a search warrant should be open to the public.

The case involved a State Police investigation into allegations that a prominent Quincy real estate developer, William O’Connell, had engaged in unlawful sexual relations with a minor. Shortly after police executed the warrant, a Quincy District Court judge impounded the affidavit.

The Patriot Ledger intervened in the criminal case to seek access to the impounded affidavit. Ruling that the document was presumptively public, the District Court judge lifted the impoundment order. Prosecutors and O’Connell both appealed.

On appeal to the SJC, the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association filed an amicus brief in support of the Patriot Ledger, together with the New England Newspaper and Press Association, the Citizen Media Law Project and the New England First Amendment Coalition.

In its decision today, the SJC noted that there is a longstanding presumption in favor of public access to search warrants and supporting materials. While a judge may restrict access for good cause, impoundment should be used only in limited and specific circumstances, the SJC said.

Here, the SJC rejected O’Connell’s argument that release of the affidavit would prejudice his right to a fair trial. “By engaging in the proper balancing of interests, and utilizing the procedural tools available in criminal proceedings, judges are well equipped to safeguard a defendant’s right to a fair trial,” the court said.

The SJC also ruled for the first time on the applicability of a state law that makes reports to police of rapes or sexual assaults private. General Laws c. 41, § 97D, provides: “All reports of rape and sexual assault or attempts to commit such offenses and all conversations between police officers and victims of said offenses shall not be public reports and shall be maintained by the police departments in a manner which will assure their confidentiality.”

Prosecutors and O’Connell argued that this statute applied not only to police records, but also to court records, including search warrant affidavits. The SJC concluded otherwise, it does not by its terms preclude publication in court of police reports or the content of a victim’s conversations with police regarding an alleged rape or sexual assault.

The case is Commonwealth v. George W. Prescott Publishing Co., LLC.

Governor Proclaims June 28 ‘Community Newspaper Day’

Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick has issued a proclamation declaring today, June 28, to be Community Newspaper Day. See a PDF of the proclamation here: Community Newspaper Day.

The proclamation was issued, in part, to recognize the 175 birthday today of the Patriot Ledger in Quincy, one of the oldest continuously publishing newspapers in the United States.

The proclamation states:

Whereas Community newspapers have played an important role in the Commonwealth’s history by providing residents with a reliable source of relevant information and by helping them stay connected with the events and occurrences that affect their lives and those of their neighbors; and

Whereas Freedom of the Press, guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, is a cornerstone of our democracy; and

Whereas Community newspapers promote government transparency and provide residents with important information related to the business of their local governments; and

Whereas The printed word unites the common man in pursuit of education and information and allows us all to recognize a stake in the community; and

Whereas Newspapers encourage civic engagement and serve as a forum for dialogue on issues important to local cities and towns by covering topics of interest to the community as a whole; and

Whereas Community newspapers help build stronger communities by recognizing residents’ achievements, celebrating the births and weddings of loved ones and neighbors, and showcasing local cultural and social events; and

Whereas Massachusetts is home to some of the longest circulating newspapers in the country, including the Patriot Ledger which celebrates 175 years of service to the City of Quincy and the communities of the south shore; and

Whereas On this day we recognize community newspapers and their many contributions to the rich fabric of the Commonwealth,

Now, Therefore, I, Deval L. Patrick, Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, do hereby proclaim June 28th, 2012, to be ,

Community Newspaper Day

And urge all the citizens of the Commonwealth to take cognizance of this event and participate fittingly in its observance.