NEW LEXINGTON – A woman who’s suing her grandfather in Perry County Common Pleas Court for alleged sex assaults in her childhood wants to pursue the case under the pseudonym “Jane Doe. “ Her grandfather, however, has asked the court to either require her to use her real name, or dismiss her lawsuit.
In a decision filed Oct. 26, Common Pleas Judge Tina M. Boyer ruled in the woman’s favor, saying that she will not dismiss the suit, and will allow the plaintiff to continue to be identified in court records as Jane Doe.
“It does not appear the Fifth District Court of Appeals or the Ohio Supreme Court have addressed the issue of allowing an alleged sexual assault victim to proceed anonymously,” Boyer wrote in her ruling. “However, there are cases that have made it to both courts on other issues where plaintiff used the Jane Doe designation.”
The woman filed her suit July 1. In it she alleged that 71-year-old Robert Woodrum, who until recently lived in Crooksville, engaged in sexual conduct with her that began when she was 9 years old, and went on until she was 13. Though the woman has identified herself to her grandfather as the person suing him, she indicated in her lawsuit that she wanted remain anonymous to the public “due to the embarrassing and humiliating actions inflicted upon her” by the defendant.
In an answer to the suit Woodrum has denied the alleged sexual assaults, and accused his granddaughter of filing a frivolous lawsuit meant to extort money from him.
Attorneys for Woodrum have also pushed back against the woman’s bid for anonymity, arguing that it unfairly allows her to expose Woodrum to “public humiliation and scorn” while keeping her insulated from public opinion. They asked in their initial answer to the lawsuit, and reiterated the request in a later motion, that Boyer either require the woman to identify herself publicly or throw her case out of court.
The plaintiff’s attorneys have filed a motion opposing this defense request, in which they argued that it was an attempt to pressure the woman to drop her complaint.
In Boyer’s ruling, the judge notes that there is case law supporting the notion that a plaintiff can sometimes proceed anonymously.
She notes that in deciding whether the plaintiff’s privacy interests outweigh the presumption that court proceedings should be open, a judge needs to consider a number of factors: Whether the plaintiff is suing to challenge government authority; whether pursuing the suit will require the plaintiff to disclose information “of the utmost intimacy”; whether the litigation requires the plaintiff to disclose that they plan to break the law, thus exposing them to criminal prosecution; and whether the plaintiff is a child.
Given the nature of Jane Doe’s suit, the judge reasons, the “information of the utmost intimacy” factor applies, and courts have routinely found that the privacy interests of sexual assault victims outweigh the presumption of judicial openness.
“There is a public interest in allowing sexual assault victims to proceed as Jane Doe so that other victims will not be deterred from coming forward,” the ruling states.
The judge also cites a point made by the plaintiff’s attorneys – that Woodrum knows who is suing him, and therefore “is not being forced to proceed with insufficient evidence to defend himself in this case.”
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