Thursday, June 5, 2014

Should people who write to a judge to request leniency for a criminal defendant have their identities shielded from public view?

My letter to the Middlesex County Court:

June 5, 2014

Ann Rizzi, ACDM
Middlesex County Courthouse
56 Paterson Street, PO Box 964
New Brunswick, New Jersey 08903
via e-mail only to ann.rizzi@judiciary.state.nj.us

Dear Ms. Rizzi:

I am writing to you at the suggestion of Ombudsman Luis Hernandez, who is copied on this e-mail.

I had previously made a records request to the Middlesex County Criminal Records Division seeking letters of support and requests for leniency regarding Anthony Morales, who was convicted of and sentenced to three years in prison for having a sexual relationship with a female student. See a January 7, 2014 nj.com article on-line here.

Today, after a bit of wrangling, I received an envelope in the mail that contained no cover letter but contained the eight pages that I have uploaded to the Internet at the link here.  As you can see, the letters are redacted such that the senders identities cannot be determined.

I requested the letters after hearing rumors that some elected or other highly placed government officials may have authored some of the letters seeking leniency for Morales.  While I do not know this for sure, I cannot rule it out based on the documents I have received.

I believed at the time of my request, and still believe, that the identities of any government official who may have requested leniency is of public interest.  Regardless of the merits of whether or not Morales deserved leniency, I do not believe that people who write to a Superior Court judge requesting leniency have any legitimate interest in keeping their identities confidential, especially if they are elected officials. Unfortunately, my ability to publicize the authors' identities has been hampered by the redactions.

Would you please either send me unredacted copies of these letters or provide a justification for the redactions that conforms to R.1:38 as well as the public's right to know under the common law right of access?

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Very truly yours,

John Paff
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ  08875
Voice: 732-873-1251
Fax: 908-325-0129
e-mail: paff@pobox.com

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