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When Can A Party To A Lawsuit Keep His Or Her Name Undisclosed

Today's Legal Intelligencer reported on a Montgomery County case filed in the U.S District Court which ruled that the plaintiff must disclose his identity and cannot hide behind a "John Doe" pseudonym. This case addressed the age- old question (at least for some of us) of when can a party to a lawsuit not disclose their name. Perhaps the most famous case using a pseudonym is  Roe v Wade. In the matter of Doe v Meglass the plaintiff alleged that the school district and police of Upper Merion Township had circulated flyers with his name, address and driver's license photo accusing him of being a suspicious person who is known to hang around the local schools. No accusations of illegal conduct were made and the man does not have any prior criminal history. The obvious implication is that the man is a pedophile even though the flyer said that he had not approached anyone "to this point". Mr. Doe filed a civil rights action against the Township claiming that these false accusations have branded him a pedophile and are a violation of his 14th amendment rights. Lawyers for Mr. Doe asked the court that he be allowed to remain unidentified under the pretense that if his name appeared on the lawsuit it would only cause further harm since all filings are accessible to the public and of course, as the Intelligencer would attest, to the newspapers. Mr. Doe went so far as to say that if the court required him to disclose his identity he would drop the suit. Lawyers for the Township and the police department opposed this request claiming he did not show any special circumstance that would entitle him to more privacy than any other person filing a lawsuit. The defense lawyers cleverly argued that his assertions were no different from a person who files a sexual discrimination suit and must address her alleged perpetrators. Judge Sanchez ruled against the plaintiff on the basis that he did not show that he would suffer irreparable harm or a specific injury. His ruling affirms the principle that the public has the right to know, and only under very rare circumstances will the need for secrecy outweigh the public's interest. The judge did consider the fact that the plaintiff's day in court may be terminated by his ruling if he does drops his suit. However, this did not carry the day. Dennis F. Feeley

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