A federal judge has declined to open the doors on a courthouse conference next week that he hopes will produce reforms of the troubled Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP).
The Star Tribune, the New York Times and 14 other news and open-government organizations had requested that Monday’s conference before U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank be open to the public.
Late Friday, the judge denied the motion, saying he invited Gov. Mark Dayton, state Attorney General Lori Swanson and top Republican and DFL legislators to the hearing for “candid input” on how to reform a system that he has found to be unconstitutional.
“Because the proceeding will be in the nature of a preliminary mediation regarding both future proceedings and possible settlement, it will remain closed,” Frank wrote. He also rejected a request to provide a full transcript of the hearing, in lieu of open access.
Dayton, Swanson and others involved in the matter — a class-action suit filed by several sex offenders to challenge the MSOP’s rules — have said they favor public access. But Frank said trial courts have discretion to limit attendance without violating First Amendment tenets.
In his order, the judge said the news organizations are missing the point that the meeting is a pretrial hearing to facilitate settlement. “In general, they are conducted in private as a matter of modern practice,” Frank wrote.
Leita Walker, attorney for the groups, had pleaded for public access because the hearing promises to be a “dynamic” policymaking session affecting the future of the state.
The MSOP holds about 700 convicted sex offenders, most of whom have completed prison terms but have been deemed too dangerous for release.