N.H. Probate Judge Unseals Documents in Carman Case After NEFAC Argues for Disclosure

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 | justin@nefac.org


After considering arguments made by the New England First Amendment Coalition, a New Hampshire court last week unsealed judicial records in a case involving Nathan Carman, a Vermont resident being investigated for the murder of his wealthy grandfather and the disappearance of his mother.

Family members are suing Carman in a state probate court to prevent him from collecting his mother’s share of their estate. The court originally ordered all documents in the case to be sealed.

A reporter from the Union Leader objected to the order and filed a motion to unseal the documents. NEFAC supported the motion in an April 10 memorandum submitted to the court and filed a motion to intervene.

“The courts of New Hampshire have always considered their records to be public, absent some overriding consideration or special circumstance,” explained attorney Gregory V. Sullivan on behalf of the coalition and the Union Leader in the memorandum. Sullivan is a member of NEFAC’s Board of Directors.

In its May 1 order to unseal the documents, the court wrote:

The Union Leader and NEFAC have since filed multiple motions asserting that no substantial reason has been offered to justify placing the exhibits under seal…The Union Leader and NEFAC essentially request this Court reconsider its prior orders… Consequently, the court concludes that the public’s right to access to court records would be unreasonably restricted if those documents remain under seal.

“This is a big win for open government,” said Justin Silverman, NEFAC executive director. “Now we can monitor this high-profile case with little secrecy.”

NEFAC’s involvement in the Carman case is one of several recent efforts by the coalition to protect First Amendment freedoms and the public’s right to know.

Earlier this month, NEFAC expressed concerns about a Rhode Island judge’s order to permanently ban reporters from speaking to jurors after a high-profile murder trial. The coalition is now preparing an amicus brief to file in the case.

In March, Sullivan successfully prevented New Hampshire prosecutors from forcing a Foster’s Daily Democrat reporter to provide unpublished interview notes. NEFAC criticized the prosecutors’ attempt as “an affront to the First Amendment.”

In April, the coalition argued against the sealing of court records in a civil rights case involving Harvard College’s admissions practices. NEFAC recently demanded timely access to juror identities and argued against indiscriminate record sealing. The coalition also advocated for immediate access to civil court documents, access to private email accounts under Vermont’s public records law, the right to record police activity and the preservation of anti-SLAPP laws.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.