CTSPJ will give its Helen M. Loy Award to a group involved with the Connecticut Law Tribune prior restraint fight this past year.
Writer Thomas Scheffey, editor Paul Sussman, publisher Jeff Forte, former writer Isaac Avilucea, and attorney Dan Klau, will be recognized for their battle in court, and active coverage of the attempt to censor their publication.
Avilucea, now at the Trentonian in New Jersey, was working on an article about unusual legal tactics being employed in a custody battle involving the Department of Children and Families when he found a document associated with the case online. The document was a habeas corpus petition filed by the divorcing father’s attorney, but the lawyer filed it improperly and the petition appeared on the Judicial Branch’s public website.
The petition also included the names of the children involved in the custody case, prompting New Britain Superior Court Judge Stephen Frazzini in late November to bar the Law Tribune from publishing the article. The Law Tribune, led by Sussman and Forte, hired Klau and challenged the ruling on the basis that it didn’t fit criteria for prior restraint as set by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Frazzini vacated his ban on the story in December, citing the widespread publication of the document as no longer requiring the prohibition, according to a CT Law Tribune story on the decision.
Scheffey followed the case from gavel to gavel for the Law Tribune.
The Helen M. Loy award honors those who advance open government through the use of Freedom of Information laws. The CT Law Tribune case extends beyond the right to access information to the right to publish without government interference. While the document in question is typically sealed by courts, the CT Law Tribune obtained it legally and under the First Amendment has the right to decide whether to publish it. Their fight was especially important in the current atmosphere where the right to access information in Connecticut is under attack.
The late Helen M. Loy was a former chairwoman of the Freedom of Information Commission, and one of the trio of original members appointed by then-Gov. Ella T. Grasso. Loy served as a commissioner from 1975-1985 when she died. Upon her passing, the Connecticut Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists named its annual Freedom of Information award in her honor.