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State's High Court Says Confidential Sex Offender Registry Details are Secret

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By STEPHANIE REITZ, Associated Press Writer

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Details cannot be disclosed about how some convicted Connecticut sex offenders are placed on a confidential registry rather than the list available to the public, the state Supreme Court has ruled.

The court’s unanimous ruling Thursday overturns a lower court in a dispute over Connecticut’s “restricted” registry, a sex offender list available only to police and courts.

By law, sex offenders can get on that list instead of the public registry if a judge decides they are not dangerous to others and naming them would identify their victims.

The Journal Inquirer newspaper of Manchester asked the state Department of Public Safety in 2007 for information– without the offenders’ names– on when and where court orders were issued giving permission for them to appear only on the private list.

Forty-one people were on the confidential registry at the time. Connecticut State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance said Thursday the number remains about the same today.

The Freedom of Information Commission supported the newspaper when state police rejected its request, and a court later sided with the commission and newspaper.

The Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday overturns that decision, saying state law supports the police’s argument for confidentiality.

The justices said details about the court actions fall under the broader realm of registration information, which is private under state law for those offenders. The FOI Commission had argued it was administrative information, which would have made it public.

Justices also questioned whether someone could use the bits of court information to piece together facts about the offender _ thereby identifying the victim, directly in contrast to what lawmakers intended when they created the restricted sex offenders list.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Thursday that although he strongly supports the state’s sex offender registry laws, he believes victims’ privacy rights deserve protection.

“This ruling rightly upholds state law providing judges discretion to conceal a sex offender’s information in certain very narrow circumstances, usually to shield the identity of victims,”  Blumenthal said.  “It protects the anonymity of incest victims and others especially vulnerable to identification.”

Colleen Murphy, the FOI Commission’s executive director, said Thursday officials there are disappointed by the decision and think defining “registration information” so broadly isn’t in keeping with the spirit and intent of Connecticut’s open-records rules.

“The whole point of the registry is for public access,” Murphy said. “The (FOI) commission was in a difficult position in this case because there was no definition for ‘registration information,’ so it was trying to use common sense and balance the various interests that were at stake.”

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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