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COA balances free speech vs. minor's privacy rights

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The Indiana Court of Appeals was faced with competing constitutional rights today: a mother’s right to free political speech versus her daughter’s right to privacy as to whether her father allegedly sexually abused her.

The court addressed this issue in Paternity of K.D.; T.N. v. B.D., No. 49A02-0907-JV-693, in which mother T.N. had spoken to an Indianapolis newspaper about her daughter’s alleged sexual abuse by the daughter’s father, B.D. The mother believed daughter K.D. had been abused by her father and was angry when the courts kept returning K.D. to his custody after the claims hadn’t been substantiated.

The articles ran a photo of the mother and named the judges, father’s attorney, and referred to K.D by a pseudonym that is very similar to her given name. The articles never mentioned how the abuse allegation wasn’t substantiated or that the CHINS case was dismissed because it was based on that allegation.

B.D. filed two petitions for rule to show cause and the juvenile court prohibited the parties from talking to the media or others about the case. The juvenile court found speaking with the media wasn’t in K.D’s best interest and the statements could result in permanent damage to the daughter.

The Court of Appeals agreed with T.N. that the order violates her right to free political speech under the First Amendment. The order constitutes an invalid prior restraint because it’s overbroad, wrote Judge Edward Najam. The appellate court balanced T.N.’s right to challenge the judiciary in the media against the privacy rights held by K.D. and father. K.D. has a privacy interest in not having the allegations of sexual abuse publicized, but there was no evidence presented that K.D. suffered or would suffer if her mother continued talking to the media.

“Freedom of speech is a fundamental right. And the right to challenge the government, inherent in freedom of speech, is at the foundation of our Constitution,” wrote Judge Najam. “Thus, we decline to say that Mother’s right to freedom of speech must yield absolutely to all facets of what the juvenile court broadly described as ‘a confidential matter.’”

The appellate court also found that B.D.’s privacy rights don’t outweigh T.N.’s right to free speech. B.D. is with recourse in the event of false accusations through a defamation action.

Examining whether the proceedings in K.D.’s case were confidential under Indiana Code sections 31-39-1-1 and -2, the judges found a literal reading of these statutes would prohibit the release only of documentation or “records” of the juvenile court but would not affect a party’s discussion of those records.

“However, such a construction would emasculate the rule by allowing a litigant to read the records or documents in whole to someone unaffiliated with the litigation. That absurd possibility cannot be the intent of our legislature,” wrote Judge Najam.

The order correctly prohibits T.N. from discussing with anyone the contents of the records listed in Section 31-39-1-1, but the order isn’t narrowly tailored. The order is overbroad to the extent that it includes mother’s independently obtained knowledge of incidents or facts that underlie the court proceedings, so it’s an invalid prior restraint on her free speech rights.

The Court of Appeals ordered the juvenile court to enter a new order that prohibits T.N. from disclosing to the media or anyone information that she learned exclusively through the juvenile proceedings and to prohibit her from using K.D’s name or similar pseudonym.
 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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