(CN) – A Baptist deacon cannot go by a pseudonym as he fights sexual abuse charges filed by one of his teenage parishioners, a Boston magistrate judge ruled.
Jane Doe sued Stephen Bowen and the New York-based Word of Life Fellowship, claiming that Bowen began sexually abusing her in 2000 when she was 17 and he was 40. Bowen was a deacon at her church, the Temple Baptist Church in Cherry Valley, Ma., and was a program director for Word of Life’s Student Training Corps, of which she was a member.
Doe said her parents discovered the abuse after about a year and put a stop to it.
Her lawsuit says Bowen tried to make their sexual relationship appear to be consensual by using his position as her “supervisor, spiritual leader, and mentor” to manipulate her emotionally, physically, and mentally. She is suing the fellowship for negligent hiring.
Bowen, proclaiming innocence, asked the court to let him proceed under a pseudonym, so as to avoid undue harm to his family and reputation. His motion pointed out that Doe’s claims have never been investigated, and that her case would not be prejudiced by his use of a pseudonym.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Hillman rejected the request on July 18.
Noting that “the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to set a standard to determine when the use of a pseudonym is proper,” Hillman discussed general and discretionary principles.
“The presumption is that all judicial proceedings remain open to the public,” the six-page order states. “Courts do recognize that the use of pseudonyms is necessary in specific circumstances, but to overcome the presumption, litigants must show that they possess a ‘substantial privacy interest that outweighs the public’s interest in disclosure.'”
But Bowen’s concern for his family’s wellbeing was insufficiently “particularized” to overcome this presumption of openness, Hillman added.
Quoting 1st Circuit precedent, Hillman noted that “the mere fact that judicial records may reveal potentially embarrassing information is not in itself sufficient reason to block public access.”
Hillman also rejected Bowen’s insistence that public interest in this matter does not outweigh his privacy interest. Typically, in order for a pseudonym to be proper, the “claims must be so weak to overcome the public interest,” according to the order.
“Allegations of sexual assault of a minor is [sic] of public interest,” Hillman wrote. Moreover, “Bowen’s former employment and leadership role in a religious organization paired with his current involvement in the tourism industry makes him of public interest.”
Ultimately, Bowen must rely on judicial process to avoid damage to his reputation and family.
“Though defendants’ reputations in sexual assault cases are at stake, they can defend claims against themselves in a public forum,” Hillman explained.