Unsealing Bo Peep Case Considered

Foes Fear Such Publicity Would Hurt Children

June 16, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

Circuit Judge William O. Carr said he would rule within three weeks on The Baltimore Sun Co.'s request to unseal a civil suit filed against the owners and some employees of the closed Bo Peep Day Nursery inBel Air.

On Friday, lawyers representing The Sun, the former owners of the day care center, and the children and parents who have filed the civil suit presented their arguments to Carr at a hearing on a motion made 11 months ago to unseal the case.

The hearing was scheduled after the Court of Special Appeals in February ordered Carr to grant The Sun a hearing on its motion. Carr'sinitial order sealing the case was to have lasted 60 days. However, Carr signed a second order Jan. 17 sealing the case indefinitely.

Court records show that on July 12, 1990, four unidentified children and their parents filed a civil suit seeking unspecified monetary damages from Bo Peep's owners, Patrick and Deborah Cassilly, and former Bo Peep teachers Martha Scarborough and Rita Blevins.

Two other defendants also named in the original complaint have been dropped from the suit.

"The reason given to keep the proceedings sealed must bemore than embarrassment or the damage to reputation that will ensue," said Mary R. Craig, a lawyer representing The Sun, in her argumentsbefore Carr Friday.

"The subject of litigation is unpleasant, butfor the parties to say they are embarrassed because they had to fileor defend a lawsuit is not sufficient argument for sealing a case."

Craig said if the case is unsealed, The Sun would maintain its policy of not publishing the names of children who are alleged victims of child abuse.

John S. Karas, an Aberdeen lawyer representing the children and their parents in the civil suit, said the case should remain sealed because the children have experienced reversals in therapy after hearing television news reports about the case.

As an alternative if the case is unsealed, Karas proposed using pseudonyms for the plaintiffs' names. In addition, Karas suggested Carr order lawyers not to file depositions in the court record and that he impose a partial gag order to keep lawyers from discussing such information.

The Cassillys' lawyer, Thomas A. Farrington, of Landover, objected strongly to "The Sun's chilling argument."

"The Sun is saying 'guilty or innocent we will protect the child whether it's proven the allegations are wrong; we don't care about the chances or reputation of the defendant,' " said Farrington. "It's a chilling argument because they cannot report the matter fairly and have no intention to do so."

Craig responded "I never said that The Sun didn't care about the defendants and Mr. Farrington knows it. The Sun will report fairly about any proceedings if The Sun is allowed access to information that will allow it to do so."

Craig rejected the idea that pre-trial publicity would bias potential jurors, noting that in highly publicized cases such as those involving Lt. Col. Oliver North, Washington Mayor Marion Barry and car maker John DeLorean, the defendants received fair trials.

Francis R. Laws, who represents Scarborough, supported Craig's motion to unseal the case. "She has been publicly accused of association with the defendants and would like to be publicly vindicated. She is completely innocent," said Laws.

John E. Kelly, representing former Bo Peep teacher Blevins, who is named in the civil suit,said, "The defendants really take no position, though we feel the order to seal the records is protective of all parties."

The Bo Peepnursery was located in a Victorian house in the 100 block of HickoryAve. in Bel Air. The nursery was shut down by the state in November 1989 following the allegations of child sexual abuse.

In the civilsuit only part of the first page of the civil suit and docket entries have been open to the public; other court documents have been sealed since the day the case was filed and court proceedings have been closed.

No criminal charges have been filed in connection with the Bo Peep closing.

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