- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) - Attorneys for a Connecticut mother and her three children pleaded with a judge Monday not to rescind a rare order prohibiting a newspaper from publishing a story about their custody dispute - a ruling criticized by free speech advocates as an extraordinary violation of the First Amendment.

State Superior Court Judge Stephen Frazzini in New Britain called the hearing to consider whether he should lift his Nov. 24 injunction against the Connecticut Law Tribune. The judge said he decided to revisit his ruling after learning a key document in the court case had been published on the websites of at least two other newspapers.

A lawyer for the mother had requested the injunction, saying that the children’s identities should be shielded from public view for their protection and that all child protection cases are confidential under state law.

“These children have been through enough and they don’t need to have their business published in the paper for everyone to read,” Susan Cousineau, a court-appointed lawyer representing the three children, told Frazzini on Monday.

It wasn’t clear when Frazzini would issue a decision. He ordered reporters at the hearing to not publish any information that would identify the children.

The Law Tribune, a Hartford-based weekly newspaper, already has appealed Frazzini’s ruling. The state Supreme Court has decided to hear the case, although it’s not clear when. If Frazzini rescinds the order, lawyers for the parents and the children are expected to appeal.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that most cases of prior restraint - preventing a story from being published - are unconstitutional, with national security being the exception. A 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling said “prior restraints on speech and publication are the most serious and the least tolerable infringements on First Amendment rights.”

The state Department of Children and Families took temporary custody of the three children last March, shortly after their father filed for divorce from their mother and amid allegations of abuse by the mother, according to the court document that was filed in October and published on the newspaper websites. In September a judge deemed the children neglected and ordered them to remain in DCF custody, the document says.

The father alleges in the document that the commitment of the children to DCF care violated his and his children’s constitutional rights, and he should be able to see them.

The father’s “petition for a writ of habeas corpus” had been publicly available in the father’s lawsuit against DCF, before the lawsuit was transferred on Nov. 10 to Juvenile Court where matters generally are confidential. The Law Tribune obtained a copy of the document before the transfer.

Dan Klau, a lawyer for the newspaper, argued it was wrong to bar a newspaper from publishing a story based on a publicly available document. Frazzini and lawyers for the mother and children said that the father’s petition shouldn’t have been filed in a case open to the public.

“The cat is out of the bag,” Klau said, referring to other newspapers publishing information about the case.

Frazzini said the case pits the children’s rights against the First Amendment.

“These are very weighty issues,” the judge said.

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