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Politics & Government

State lawmakers move to protect judges personal information

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Roman Battaglia
/
Delaware Public Media

Free speech concerns came up during a House Judiciary committee hearing Wednesday.

 

Judges often deal with sensitive matters and high emotions. That puts them in a dangerous spot when personal information - such as their address - is publicly available, potentially putting them and their family at risk.

 

The House Judiciary committee heard State Rep. Krista Griffith’s (D-Hockessin) bill today requiring government agencies to remove judges' personal information from their public records if requested.

 

But Javonne Rich, Policy director at the ACLU of Delaware says it goes too far in restricting free speech.

 

“The bill would prohibit any person or entity from communicating the personal information of judicial officers through public posts or display,” Rich said. “At a minimum amendments are necessary to narrow the scope of the prohibition on releasing personal information of judicial officers.”

 

Rich adds the bill should be more specific, defining personal information as anything a person could use to physically locate a judge, since the goal is to prevent a judge from being attacked outside the courtroom.

 

Some lawmakers are also concerned that part of the bill would be hard to enforce, since it can be difficult to locate and force a private company or citizen to take down personal information online.

 

The bill cleared the committee and now heads to the House floor — alongside a bill formed by the Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force.

 

State Rep. Melissa Minor Brown’s (D-Christina) bill would require recording custodial interrogations by police.

 

Lawmakers heard from retired law enforcement from around the country, who say once a police department begins recording interrogations, it can’t go back.

 

And chair Sean Lynn (D-Dover) addressed concerns that this requirement would put a financial strain on small police departments who can’t afford recording equipment.

 

“Everyone in the world is carrying an iPhone or and Android equipped with digital video recorders, it strikes me that again, some of these arguments just stretch credulity,” Lynn said.

 

The bill was supported by the committee and most members of the public, who believe it not only prevents coercion, but also helps police officers, by documenting their actions and allowing them to focus on the interview rather than note-taking.

 

Minor-Brown’s bill is also supported by the Delaware law enforcement community, with similar caveats about funding for smaller departments.

 

Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

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