NEFAC Opposes Maine Probate Court Proposal That Would Limit Public’s Understanding, Oversight of Judicial System

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |

Letter to Maine SJC

The New England First Amendment Coalition today submitted comments to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court opposing proposed amendments to the state’s probate court rules.

The amendments would, among other things, classify all inventories, accountings, death certificates, birth certificates and causes of death as confidential and make them available only to parties in a probate proceeding. By doing so, the public’s ability to learn about its government would be unnecessarily limited, explained Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director, in a Jan. 25 letter to the Maine SJC.

“Common law and the First Amendment require transparency in the judicial system,” Silverman wrote. “Such transparency helps the public understand how courts work and allows the public to more easily monitor their operation. The breadth of these proposed amendments, however, severely limits that understanding and oversight. In addition, no compelling reason has been presented by the court to justify these changes.”

The proposed rule changes follow the SJC’s Jan. 5 Conservatorship of Emma decision that involved a question of whether or not a probate court could prohibit certain public records from being available electronically even though the documents themselves were public and otherwise available at the courthouse. In its comments, NEFAC urged the court to consider comments made earlier by the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition as well as broader principles of the First Amendment and the public’s right to know.

“It’s important for these fundamentals not to be lost in a conversation about finer policy points,” Silverman wrote. “Put simply, a judicial system operating in secrecy is to the detriment of democracy. Citizens must be informed about what their government is doing — or not doing — on their behalf.”


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. Donations can be made here. Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.