The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island has requested the “gag order” issued for the settlement discussions in the pension case be lifted now that plaintiffs are voting on a possible settlement agreement. In a letter delivered Friday to R.I. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter, the ACLU said that since the “broadly written” gag order was issued to protect the confidentiality of the mediation process, it is “counter-productive and unduly intrusive on basic First Amendment values to allow it to remain in effect” now that that task is completed.
In the letter, ACLU of Rhode Island executive director Steven Brown noted that, as plaintiffs began an expedited process of considering and voting on a settlement agreement, various explanations of the agreement have circulated with no public details coming from those who know what it contains.
The letter stated that due to the gag order, “Both the individuals on whose behalf this offer has been made and members of the taxpaying general public who will be responsible for the costs associated with any settlement are at a distinct disadvantage: they cannot hear directly from the individuals most knowledgeable on this ‘final offer’ settlement about what it includes and what it means.”
Given the extreme public significance of this lawsuit, Brown urged Judge Taft-Carter to advance the public’s right to know by repealing the order now that a final offer is on the table.
Brown stated: “Any gag order, however well intentioned, has significant consequences for the vitality of freedom of speech. It can erode trust in the judicial process, unfairly limit the public’s right to know and, as evidenced in this instance, unnecessarily generate widespread confusion.”