Monthly Archives: September 2012

Rape victims can be called “Jane Doe” in court records, appeals court rules

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Zochowski Law, PLLC, 100 E. Big Beaver Rd., Ste. 900, Troy, MI 48083

Contact:          Scott Zochowski

Office:            (248) 548-6800

Date:               September 21, 2012

DETROIT, MI – The Michigan Appeals Court has added sexual assault survivors to a limited group of people who can ask to be called “Jane Doe” (or “John Doe”) in public court records.(1)

Why does “Jane Doe” status matter? Studies estimate that 60% of sexual assaults already go unreported in the US.(2) New electronic court databases can easily be searched online by anyone with a computer or smart phone, potentially allowing access to anything filed in a lawsuit. This could include transcripts with graphic descriptions of a sexual assault, medical records of a victim and other sensitive information.

“Having this option to protect your privacy lifts on more barrier against reporting and prosecution of rape,” said Scott Zochowski, a lawyer who made a friend of court argument in the case for a victims’ rights group. The Court considered the social stigma of rape in reaching its decision.

Citations:

(1) Jane Doe v. Vidal Borromeo and William Beaumont Hospital, Michigan Court of Appeals Case No. 305162 and 305163. Page 10 of unpublished opinion. Opinion released 09/21/2012. http://coa.courts.mi.gov/documents/opinions/final/coa/20120920_c305162_100_305162.opn.pdf

(2) US Department of Justice, National Crime Victimization Survey, 2006-2012.

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Full opinion, In Re Schafer, Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals

Holding that Michigan’s bankruptcy-specific homestead exemption is constitutional under the Supremacy Clause and the Bankruptcy Clause (aka Uniformity Clause) of the US Constitution.

http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/12a0274p-06.pdf

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Court of Appeals hears arguments, re: “Jane Doe” status for sexual assault victims

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Zochowski Law, PLLC, 100 E. Big Beaver Rd., Ste. 900, Troy, MI 48083

Contact: Scott Zochowski

Telephone: (248) 548-6800

On Tuesday, the Michigan Court of Appeals heard the case of Jane Doe v. Vidal Borromeo and Beaumont Hospital. The case addresses privacy rights of sexual assault survivors. Although the Plaintiff (“Ms. Doe”) won a $500,000 judgment in the lower court based on a sexual assault claim, the trial judge ordered for her real name to be made public.

The victim’s request to keep her name out of the public record was supported by an amicus (or “friend of court”) brief filed by the Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, a nonprofit advocacy group. In a rare move, the Court of Appeals allowed the Coalition to participate in the oral argument before a panel of judges. The Coalition was represented by Troy, Michigan lawyer Scott Zochowski.

Mr. Zochowski stated that the Court of Appeals ruled on this issue before in its 1982 decision in Doe v. Bodwin. “The Court has held that it is appropriate to allow a party to a case to use a fictitious name when the case involves disclosure of ‘information of a private nature.’ Although the Bodwin opinion did not specifically list sexual assault in its examples, I cannot imagine circumstances with any more private information.” The appeal asks the Michigan courts to expand current case law to include victims of rape and sexual assault under “Jane Doe” status in civil lawsuits.

The Coalition has stressed that the idea of what is “public” has changed since 1982. New electronic case filing systems can easily be searched online by anyone with a computer or smart phone, potentially allowing access to any item filed as an exhibit in a lawsuit. This could include transcripts with graphic descriptions of a sexual assault, medical records of a victim and other sensitive information. Studies estimate that 60% of sexual assaults already go unreported in the US. (US Department of Justice, National Crime Victimization Survey, 2006-2012) “Denying victims the option of ‘Jane Doe’ status in these sort of cases will have a chilling effect on reporting and prosecution by sexual assault survivors,” argued Mr. Zochowski.

The case has been submitted for a final a decision from the Court, to be entered at a future date.

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Appellant’s reply brief, Richardson v. Schafer (In re Steven Schafer)

Appellant Steven Schafer’s Reply Brief

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