NEFAC, MNPA to Mass. High Court: More Transparency Needed in Cambridge Brothel Case

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition and the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association today outlined arguments for more transparency in a high-profile commercial sex ring case that could ultimately be heard in secret.

The case involves 28 individuals accused of paying for sex and who have been summoned to appear in Cambridge District Court for “show cause” hearings. These hearings typically occur in secret but a clerk magistrate ruled that they would be open to the public after appeals were made by WBUR, The Boston Globe and NBC 10 Boston.

When WBUR and the Globe petitioned the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County for all the case documents — including the identities of those accused — lawyers for the accused as well as other interested parties objected.

NEFAC and MNPA requested an opportunity to fully brief the court — a request the court denied — on why the case documents should be made public. In their motion, attorney Peter Caruso, Sr. explained that:

This sex-for-hire matter has attracted wide public attention and media coverage. The matter, unlike neighbor disputes and other minor matters of low public interest typically before a clerk-magistrate, cries out for open proceedings and open access to named individuals and evidence submitted during the hearing. This matter is of significant public importance and interest. . . .

The press’s ability to keep the public informed is premised in large part on open access to the court system, and on its ability to examine and report on submitted judicial documents. Non-disclosure to the public would inhibit the public’s understanding of the process and serve to dimmish or undermine the credibility, authority, and integrity of the Clerk-Magistrate’s decision.

Show cause hearings in Massachusetts are used to determine whether there is probable cause to issue a charge in typically minor criminal matters. To protect the accused from unwanted publicity, show cause hearings attendance and records are not generally available to the public.

This secrecy is problematic for several reasons, including the potential for these courts to be used by well-connected individuals seeking favorable treatment without public scrutiny. The Supreme Judicial Court in 2007 ruled that there is not a First Amendment right of the public to access show cause hearings. While legislation has been introduced several times to open up these hearings and provide more transparency, each bill failed to pass.

Check out NEFAC’s Massachusetts FOI Guide to learn more about show cause hearings, the danger they pose to open government and how to request a hearing be open to the public.

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.

NEFAC is supported by the Estate of Gloria Negri. Additional funding is provided by Leadership Circle donors including the Rhode Island Foundation, The Boston Globe, Paul and Ann Sagan, and the Robertson Foundation. Major Supporters of NEFAC’s work are Hearst Connecticut Media Group, Boston University, the Academy of New England Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation, Genie Gannett for the First Amendment Museum, Linda Pizzuti Henry, the Champa Charitable Foundation Fund, Connecticut Public and WBUR-Boston.