T.L.S. had been involuntary committed to state facilities since 1992, but in 2003, state officials concluded that TLS had made enough progress so as to not be classified as “seriously developmentally disabled” under state law.  Despite this reclassification, Missoula County officials recommitted TLS, and TLS died soon thereafter in the state facility.  The Montana Advocacy Program (MAP) as an advocate for the disabled in Montana sought access to the recommitment documents which it received and then sought judgment allowing release of the documents to the public.   The District Court denied the release, saying that MAP’s advocacy role did not constitute good cause under the statutes allowing sealed court documents and that MAP’s need to release the documents was not a “compelling state interest” justifying infringement upon TLS’s right of privacy.  The Montana ACLU filed an amicus brief, detailing how the District Court had applied the wrong standard with respect to the right of privacy and the public’s right to know, with which the Montana Supreme Court agreed.  The Court reasoned that this was a “right to know” case and had to be analyzed under “right to know” precedent under Art. II, Sec. 9, Mont. Const.  and, instead of applying a compelling state interest standard, weighed the public’s right to know against the individual privacy interest, and determined that the documents should be released.

Attorney(s)

Andrew I. Huff (ACLU Foundation)

Date filed

October 10, 2006

Court

Supreme Court of the State of Montana

Case number

05-290

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