Helen  KIRK  v.  COMMONWEALTH (2011)

The SJC finds that commitment hearings pursuant to MGL Ch. 123 § 16c are “presumptively” open to the public.

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After being found not guilty of murder by reason of mental illness in September, 2007, the plaintiff was committed to Taunton State Hospital (hospital). Prior to the plaintiff’s recommitment hearing [FN1] before a judge in the Taunton Division of the District Court Department, the plaintiff filed a motion to close that proceeding to the public. After a hearing on the motion, the judge denied the requested relief. The plaintiff petitioned a single justice of this court for leave to appeal pursuant to G.L. c. 211, § 3, and the single justice reserved and reported the matter to the full court. [FN2] The plaintiff alleges that she has a right to privacy in her civil recommitment proceeding, and that the judge erred in denying her motion for closure. We conclude that, as recommitment proceedings pursuant to G.L. c. 123, § 16 (c ), are presumptively open to the public, and as the plaintiff has not met her burden of showing an overriding interest that is likely to be prejudiced absent closure, the judge did not err in denying the plaintiff’s motion.

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