, Salem, MA

Local News

November 8, 2013

Judge keeps records sealed in case of slain Danvers teacher

DANVERS — Search warrant documents related to the investigation into the murder of Danvers High teacher Colleen Ritzer of Andover will remain secret for now, a judge has ruled.

Judge Michael C. Laurenzano rejected arguments by lawyers for The Salem News, The Eagle-Tribune, The Salem News, The Associated Press and others that the public a legal right to the documents.

In his 3-page decision released this morning, Laurenzano agreed that the Supreme Judicial Court has held that "when filed in court, search warrant materials are judicial records to which the public's presumptive right to access applies."

"However," he added, "there is no constitutionally guaranteed right of access to such documents."

The judge said the release of the records would "likely (1) effect/prejudice an ongoing Grand Jury investigation and (2) invade the privacy interests of the Ritzer family."

The impoundment order will remain in effect until Nov.. 22, when the grand jury investigation is expected to be completed.

Peter J. Caruso, lawyer for The Salem News and The Eagle-Tribune, said the decision was disappointing, especially after the District Attorney's Office had agreed to release a redacted version of the warrant documents, which would have shielded the names of juvenile witnesses and some as yet confidential details of the crime.

"Keeping secret the entire search warrant procedure does not follow the spirit and intent of the SJC’s decisions," Caruso said, "The public is left to wonder and speculate about very serious police actions that only the DA knows and wants to keep secret ... Wholesale secrecy to home search warrants opens the door to unabated police and district attorney actions. The public remains in the dark.

"There were no specific reasons cited by the court to keep the entire procedure secret – as the Supreme Judicial Court has required. ... Each case has specific facts --  these were not in the court’s decision; redaction would be proper for only those facts that specifically were found by the court to balance the investigation – but this balance also remains a secret."

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