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SJC tells publisher to release e-mails


March 6, 2002

The state's highest court yesterday ordered Boston Phoenix publisher Stephen M. Mindich to turn over his e-mails about a controversial decision by his wife, Superior Court Judge Maria Lopez, to a judicial commission investigating complaints against her.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled quickly, releasing a terse, two-sentence decision just hours after hearing arguments in the case. It also ruled that the confidentiality order, keeping secret all the documents and briefs in the case, should stand. The justices said they will release a longer opinion on the case.

Mindich's lawyers had said his subpoena from the Commission on Judicial Conduct was too broad, and violated his rights to free speech and privacy. They also argued the case involving Mindich's subpoena should not be sealed.

''The public cannot see what a one-sided case this should have been,'' said Harvey Silverglate, one of Mindich's lawyers, after the decision was released. ''It certainly detracts from public confidence when the court system votes for itself and censors the other side's argument. It's outrageous.''

Lopez is being investigated by the commission on allegations that she participated in a ''whisper campaign'' against an 11-year-old crime victim after her lenient sentence for the boy's attacker set off an uproar. Charles Horton, a transgendered Dorchester resident, pleaded guilty in September 2000 to kidnapping and attempting to rape the boy.

Prosecutors had asked for an 8-to-10-year prison sentence, but Lopez sentenced Horton to a year of home confinement and four years' probation.

The June 2001 subpoena ordered Mindich to turn over documents related to Lopez and the Horton case, including her sentencing and events following the sentencing, according to court records. Although the SJC records are impounded, papers in Suffolk Superior Court, where Mindich first asked that the subpoena be quashed, are not.

In a Superior Court affidavit, Mindich said the only documents that he had relating to the case were e-mails, written both by him and other people. Yesterday, Roberto Braceras, an attorney for the commission, told justices that Mindich had gathered the requested e-mails three weeks after he received the subpoena, but didn't turn them over.

Mindich could not be reached for comment after yesterday's ruling, and his lawyers said he was waiting until the full opinion is released. But after the SJC hearing yesterday morning, Mindich was angry, calling the lawyer for the commission who argued the case ''a liar.''

Later, he said he was fighting the subpoena because of the dangerous precedent it would set.

''The only reason I'm in this [witchhunt] is because it is a complete violation of every citizen's privacy,'' Mindich said. ''I have nothing to hide. I have done nothing and said nothing. There's nothing in my e-mails.''

Last fall, SJC Justice Francis X. Spina had ordered Mindich to comply with the subpoena, and ruled that the case and all its documents should be impounded to protect the confidentiality of ''the judge being investigated.'' Mindich appealed that ruling.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at kburge@globe.com

This story ran on page B2 of the Boston Globe on 3/6/2002.

By Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff. Copyright © 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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