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Empire Justice Center Letter of Support for Bill to Protect DV Victims' Confidentiality

Governor David Paterson
Executive Chamber
State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224

Dear Governor Paterson,

For 15 years, Civil Rights Law §64-a has provided victims of domestic violence, stalking, and other crimes the ability to forego mandatory publication of their intent to change their names and allowed for sealing of their name change-related court records where their personal safety would be placed at risk due to release of this information.  For those persons forced to take the extreme safety measure of an identity change, this law has long-provided enormous relief.  Court orders requiring sealing of court records and publication exemptions have become progressively more commonplace where judges have determined that release of such information could leave litigants in increased danger.   

However, while the current law offers final relief in a judgment, it does not specifically provide for the confidentiality of this same potentially dangerous information while the identity change applicant’s case is commenced and pending.  Because this early time period before the name change is actually finalized may be especially dangerous for victims and their families, failure to protect these extremely sensitive records during all points in the proceedings could jeopardize the well-being of those very victims who need confidentiality protections the most.  Currently, unless a pro se name change applicant, the applicant’s attorney, or the judge is overtly aware of this potential safety breach from disclosed records during an open proceeding, they will not know to request or order a temporary sealing of the records during the matter’s pendency.           
This bill specifically remedies this serious gap by automatically requiring a court to temporarily order the sealing and safeguarding of an applicant’s identifying information, pleadings and other court records after a case is commenced under Civil Rights Law §64-a.  In creating this automatic provision, these name change applicants will have the benefit of the court’s crucial protection from the moment their case is filed.                   

Empire Justice Center has been aware of and long-troubled by this loophole.  Over the years, we have counseled countless attorneys, advocates, and victims to request a sealing order at the start of the case, as this bill would require.  However, we know that we could not reach everyone seeking relief under this law.  In making such an order automatic upon filing, this legislation will immediately solve this problem for all subsequent applicants around the state.  We applaud the Assembly and Senate for passing this bill in May 2009. 

We urge the Governor to guard the safety and welfare of abuse and crime victims forced to change their identities by now signing A. 3468/ S.4334 into law.                  

For more information, please contact:

Amy Schwartz-Wallace

Empire Justice Center
Telesca Center for Justice
One West Main Street, Suite 200
Rochester, NY  14614 

P:(585) 454-4060
F:(585) 454-2518

July 1, 2009