AG Reilly proposes closing domestic violence case records

By Martin Finucane, Associated Press

March 4, 1999

BOSTON (AP) - Information on victims' addresses and telephone numbers contained in domestic violence case court records should be kept confidential, according to Attorney General Thomas Reilly.

Reilly said he was responding to a Boston-based divorced fathers' group's move to copy more than 400 files.

''A victim should not have to forfeit the right to privacy, simply because she has sought court-ordered protection from domestic violence,'' Reilly said in a statement.

Reilly's proposal to protect the addresses, numbers and other identifying information came the same day Gov. Paul Cellucci unveiled his own package of anti-domestic violence bills.

Reilly said the father's coalition had recently sought access to court files of all restraining orders issued in 1997 from the Gardner District Court. The clerk permitted the files to be copied because they are public records.

The attorney general's office said it had obtained documents that indicated the fathers' group planned to survey the women whose names were obtained and ask if their abuse claims were factual or if they had just filed restraining orders to get custody of the children.

Steve Basile, a member of the father's coalition and an orchestrator of the Gardner court survey, said Reilly's proposal will only thwart legitimate research that could be useful in reuniting absent fathers from the children they are being kept away from unnecessarily.

The divorced father of two was himself the subject of a restraining order filed by his wife several years ago, but he declined to discuss details.

Basile said none of the men working on the Gardner survey were connected to cases being heard in that court.

Sen. Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate, said there was ''no purpose, besides intimidation, for this organization, or any uninvolved individual or group to access this information.''

Cellucci was flanked by a crowd of lawmakers, law enforcement officials and anti-domestic violence activists on Wednesday at a Statehouse news conference as he introduced his own package of bills intended to crack down o n domestic abuse.

Under one proposal, domestic abusers would get up to 15 years of prison time if they are convicted of assaulting a pregnant woman or a woman who has sought the protection of a restraining order.

The governor is also calling for much tougher penalties for people who repeatedly violate restraining orders. The proposal calls for abusers who break restraining orders for a second time to face a $50,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

If the abuser breaks the restraining order while carrying a weapon, that sentence could be as long as 10 years.

''We want to make sure that help is there when someone seeks to escape a busive situations and abusive relationships,'' Cellucci said.

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