Media access stopped by judge in hearings for Bouknight case

January 27, 1995|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun Staff Writer

A Baltimore judge halted media access to hearings in the Jacqueline L. Bouknight case yesterday, saying that the confidentiality of the juvenile court had been compromised by the publication of a computer-enhanced likeness of Ms. Bouknight's missing son.

Judge David B. Mitchell also said The Sun had violated a court order granting it access by publishing a last name for the boy, Maurice, in a caption to the image.

The caption published in the Thursday editions of The Sun misidentified the boy as "Maurice Bouknight." In fact, the child does not share his mother's last name.

Yesterday's developments were the latest twist in a case that has dragged on for nearly seven years since Judge Mitchell ordered Ms. Bouknight, now 28, to jail. She has refused to divulge the whereabouts of Maurice, whom she previously had abused. Hers has been one of the longest incarcerations in the country for civil contempt.

The judge now is trying to determine whether Ms. Bouknight should be released. If she cannot or will not cooperate any further in locating her son, who would now be 8, she must be set free under the law.

Juvenile proceedings and court papers are confidential by state law, and are to be opened to the public only at the judge's discretion. Judge Mitchell exercised that discretion when he opened a hearing on the question of Ms. Bouknight's release, and some court papers, more than a week ago at The Sun's request.

Judge Mitchell, who presides over Baltimore's juvenile court, said the fact that yesterday's caption was in error and that the newspaper apologized for it didn't make up for possible harm to Maurice, and to the principle of protecting children's privacy.

The newspaper obtained the picture through the public-information office of the Baltimore City Police Department, which has been using the image to find Maurice. Judge Mitchell said the department had not consulted him before releasing the photo.

The judge did offer to let reporters stay in the courtroom if they agreed to several new conditions, including a requirement that they not publish any likenesses or photographs of the boy -- no matter where the images were obtained. He also said that in order to stay in the courtroom, The Sun would have to publish his order, precisely as he had worded it, in today's editions.

An attorney for the newspaper, however, said The Sun would not consent to those terms, leading Judge Mitchell to deny access to all media.

ZTC "We cannot agree to an order of a government agency as to what a newspaper will include in its editions," said James J. Doyle III, a lawyer for The Sun. "It's a First Amendment principle we're standing on."

Attorneys in the case met privately with the judge in his chambers yesterday. They would not comment on the discussions.

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