BEL AIR -- A Harford County judge agreed yesterday to unseal a civil suit against owners of the Bo Peep Day Nursery, which the state closed three years ago after a hearing examiner found that children had been physically and sexually abused there.
The ruling opens a file that has been closed since July 1990, when four parents suing the Bel Air day-care center filed a motion asking Circuit Judge William O. Carr to bar the press and public from reading the court documents.
Judge Carr ruled yesterday that the court has no authority or constitutional basis for sealing the suit. The Baltimore Sun Co. had petitioned the court to open the file, arguing that the public and press have a right to read it.
The case file was not available yesterday.
The suit names as defendants Deborah and Patrick Cassilly, who owned the day-care center, and former teachers Rita Blevins and Martha Scarborough. While the state health department closed the center in August 1988, no criminal charges have been filed in the case.
"The decision to let the public have full access to the contentofthe file was not one easily made," Judge Carr said in his ruling. "Regardless of who prevails in this case, the outcome is tragic to all involved. Either the children were the victims of serious abuse, or the defendants have suffered irreversible harm to their reputations."
In asking that the suit be sealed, the parents argued that publicity about the case might cause long-term psychological damage to their children.
Although The Sun said in its arguments to unseal the case that it has a policy of not publishing the names of minors involved in sexual abuse cases, Judge Carr expressed concern that others in the media may not have the same policy.
"The present case has elements of sex, scandal and publicontroversy," he wrote. "When presented with such a story, expecting members of the media to exercise taste, intelligence, good judgment and discretion is like expecting a dog to walk on its hind legs. Even if it is done, it will not be done very well or for very long."
The judge's 15-page ruling also denied requests by the familieto use pseudonyms during court proceedings. Judge Carr said he would rule later on a request to move the case to another county.