PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- A Family Court judge has forbidden a woman from talking about her custody case with anyone, including the media, or posting anything about the matter on any blogs or other sites on the Internet.
The woman, Faith Torres, has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union about the gag order, but declined comment for fear of violating it.
"This court order is a blatant violation of the First Amendment,'' Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU's Rhode Island affiliate, said. "If she believes she is being treated unfairly, or if she just wishes to make people aware of her case, she should be able to do so free of a court-ordered gag rule.''
The judge's order is so broadly worded, Brown said, that "Ms. Torres faces contempt of court charges if she discusses the case with her mother..."
By law, someone who violates a court order and is charged with contempt of court can face imprisonment.
Family Court Judge Debra DeSegna issued the gag order -- which applies not only to Torres but also her lawyers -- on July 29 at the request of the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families.
DeSegna was on vacation this week and could not be reached for comment. Neither Acting Family Court Chief Judge Haiganush R. Bedrosian nor Associate Judge Karen Lynch Bernard, who was filling in for DeSegna and signed the Torres order on Friday, responded to requests for comment.
Joanne H. Lehrer, the DCYF director's chief of staff, said Friday that she could not discuss specifics of the case. However, Lehrer said, it's not unusual for the agency's lawyers, particularly in custody cases involving domestic disputes, to draft such "broad brush" orders and ask the judges to enforce them to "protect the confidentiality of the child."
The gag order issued by Judge DeSegna in the Torres case is contained in paragraph 4 of a 1 ½-page ruling that details the conditions under which Torres is allowed supervised visitation with her oldest child. It states:
"All parties to this action, including the Plaintiff and Defendant, and all counsel are restrained and enjoined from discussing any of the within court proceedings and related matters involving the children with any third party, including but not limited to members of the media, postings on blog, and/or the internet."
Torres said at the time that her lawyer, Jodie Gladstone, objected to the order but the judge overruled her.
Several calls to the Providence law firm where Gladstone practices went unreturned. A woman who answered the phone at the firm told a reporter that Gladstone could not respond due to the court order.