Second Challenge to Closed NJ Hearings On Behalf of NJ Newspapers Seeking Access
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE NEWARK, NJ–In its second challenge to a government policy blocking public access to immigration hearings, the American Civil Liberties Union today filed a First Amendment lawsuit on behalf of two New Jersey media organizations whose reporters were blocked from attending routine proceedings. “By barring the press and public, the government is defying a longstanding history of openness in deportation hearings and is attempting to shield itself from accountability regarding the controversial detention of hundreds of immigrants,” said Ed Barocas, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey, which filed the lawsuit together with the national ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights.
The lawsuit was filed in federal district court on behalf of the North Jersey Media Group, which owns the Bergen Record and the Herald News, and the New Jersey Law Journal, a weekly legal paper. United States Attorney General John Ashcroft and Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy are named as defendants.
At issue is a policy set forth in a September 21, 2001 memo from Judge Creppy to all immigration judges requiring the closure of all deportation proceedings to the public and the press when directed by the Justice Department. That policy was apparently invoked to close numerous hearings to reporters and others who sought access.
The legal complaint cites a number of occasions when reporters from New Jersey newspapers were denied access to specific hearings. The groups are asking the court to lift the blanket policy blocking access to hearings and allow local immigration judges to make case-by-case determinations about which hearings should be closed.
In their complaint, the ACLU and CCR noted the vulnerable position of the hundreds of immigrants being held in detention centers in New Jersey and elsewhere, and the need for the press to observe and report on the government’s actions in these matters.
“Open judicial proceedings are a fundamental component of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment,” the complaint said, citing numerous court decisions recognizing that open hearings play a vital role in furthering important public interests, such as checking corrupt practices by exposing the judicial process to public scrutiny and discouraging perjury.
A similar legal challenge was filed on January 29 by the ACLU and its Michigan affiliate on behalf of two local newspapers and Rep. John Conyers, D-MI. A positive outcome in either lawsuit could result in the reopening of court proceedings in deportation cases in those states, according to Lee Gelernt, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants Rights Project.
The case is North Jersey Media Group, Inc. and New Jersey Law Journal v. John Ashcroft, Attorney General of the United States and Hon. Michael Creppy, Chief Immigration Judge of the United States, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.
Larry Lustberg of the law firm Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, based in Newark, is the ACLU’s lead attorney in the matter.
The legal complaint is online at http://archive.aclu.org/court/creppy.pdf
The memorandum from Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy is available in .pdf format at http://archive.aclu.org/court/creppy_memo.pdf
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