Journalists, advocates challenge Missouri’s new redaction rules

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(Missouri News Service – Farah Siddiqi) – The Missouri Broadcasters Association is among the parties filing a lawsuit, claiming a state law that requires extensive redactions in court documents is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit, filed in Jefferson City, challenges a law passed last year that mandates attorneys and judicial officers redact the names of all witnesses and victims in lawsuits and criminal proceedings.

Dave Roland, president and CEO of the Freedom Center of Missouri, represents the plaintiffs. He said these restrictions severely limit the news media’s ability to effectively monitor the judicial system – which in turn harms the public. He added the law also has cost implications. “The redaction requirement dramatically increases the cost of litigation, such that it is putting certain types of legal actions and certain motions beyond the financial capacity of a number of litigants,” he said.

Roland added the plaintiffs agree that in some situations – involving children, or sexual assault – names should be kept private. But they contend a blanket law to redact all names violates both the Missouri and U.S. Constitutions.

The bill was spearheaded by Rep. Justin Hicks, R-St. Louis. A hearing date for the case has not yet been set.

Chad Mahoney, president and CEO of the Missouri Broadcasters Association, voiced concerns about the law’s impact on journalists’ ability to report accurately. “We support protecting those who need to be protected for their safety, but we think this goes way too far. It’s making it very difficult for journalists to do their jobs and to fully inform the public,” he continued.

Mahoney said historically, the courts have been the most open and transparent branch of government, and that has changed with some of these recent actions.

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