Maine Newspapers Fight Anonymous Testimony in Lawsuit Challenging Vaccine Mandate
A group of newspapers in Portland, Lewiston, Augusta, and Waterville, represented by Preti Flaherty attorney Sigmund Schutz, have filed a motion in federal court requesting the identity of nine healthcare workers seeking religious exemption from the state's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees in the healthcare industry. The nine individuals are plaintiffs in a lawsuit that was originally filed in U.S. District Court in Portland in August 2021 and were allowed by the court at that time to proceed with their case under the protection of anonymity.
In response to the motion, managing editor of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram Steve Greenlee said, "Keeping the names of these plaintiffs secret deprives the public of important information. . . . This isn’t a private case like a custody dispute. . . . The litigation in question is challenging the way our leaders are handling a public health crisis. Our judicial system should be transparent in matters of community concern.”
On May 31, 2022, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Jon D. Levy issued a ruling, stating "[T]here is a near total absence of proof that their expressed fears are objectively reasonable. . . . The Plaintiffs’ privacy interests have not been shown to outweigh the public interest associated with the presumption of openness that applies to civil proceedings.” In response to the order to disclose their names by June 7, the nine anonymous plaintiffs announced their intent to appeal the decision.
"Maine Health Care Workers to Appeal Order to Disclose Their Names in Vaccine Mandate Lawsuit," Portland Press Herald, June 1, 2022
Sigmund Schutz, attorney for the newspapers, called it the “snowball effect” and said it would undermine a fundamental principle of the U.S. justice system.
“Our court system doesn’t allow people to litigate anonymously, especially on an issue of great importance to so many people,” Schutz said. “We believe the public has a right to know who filed this lawsuit. We don’t believe they have a right to litigate anonymously.”