A coalition of Twin Cities news outlets, including the Star Tribune, is expected to file court papers this week challenging a federal judge’s decision to bar reporters and the public from a meeting to consider reforms to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP).
At least four news organizations — including the Star Tribune, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, WCCO-TV and KSTP-TV — are jointly preparing a motion in federal court demanding that U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank allow members of the public to attend the Aug. 10 courthouse conference in St. Paul. More than two dozen public officials, including prominent legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton, are expected to attend the meeting, which Frank declared private in a ruling last week.
Frank called the conference to begin discussing ways to correct systemic problems with Minnesota’s sex offender program, which houses about 700 offenders in secure treatment centers in Moose Lake and St. Peter and has been under court challenge for more than a year.
In a June ruling, Frank declared the program unconstitutional, in part because the program confines offenders for prolonged periods even without determining if they still pose a threat to the public. His ruling followed a six-week trial in which offenders and experts on sexual disorders criticized the program’s treatment model as ineffective and questioned why almost no one is ever released.
Frank had repeatedly urged legislators to craft reforms that would bring the program up to constitutional standards or face court-imposed reforms, including the release of sex offenders.
“This is an issue of significant public interest that strikes at the core of what people need to pay attention to — the fairness of our criminal justice system,” said Leita Walker, a First Amendment attorney who is representing the media organizations challenging Frank’s ruling. “It’s something the public should be able to observe, so they can have faith that the system will be preserved.”
As of Tuesday, the major parties to the case appeared to agree with the media’s position. Both Dayton and a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office, which is representing the state in the legal case, said they believe the meeting should be public.
The Minnesota Newspaper Association and the Minnesota Broadcasters Association are expected to join the motion later this week.