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Media coalition seeks access in Minnesota sex offender case

August 6, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A coalition of news organizations asked in a federal court filing Thursday that high-level talks over the future of Minnesota’s sex offender confinement program be open to the public.

At issue is a conference Monday in which a federal judge has asked Gov. Mark Dayton, top state lawmakers and others to discuss alternatives to indefinite lockup in secure medical facilities for 700 sex offenders. Judge Donovan Frank asked for the conference to be held, but declared it closed to the public after previously ruling the program is unconstitutional.

Program changes could cost millions and put sex offenders in less-restrictive settings. The case has been closely watched nationally because at least 19 other states have civil commitment laws for keeping offenders confined after completion of criminal sentences.

The motion was filed by lawyers for the Minneapolis Star Tribune along with several other media outlets, including The Associated Press, and professional organizations for reporters. The media attorneys argue it isn’t a routine conference, which could include case scheduling or settlement discussions, because of the participants and stakes involved.

“The future of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program is at stake and is of significant public concern — the program and its administration impact public safety, public expense, and individuals’ constitutional rights,” the motion states. “The press and public therefore have a significant and legitimate interest in observing discussions on that topic by their elected leaders and those leaders’ political appointees.”

Dayton and some lawmakers have questioned the decision to hold the conference in private, but said it was out of their control. As many as two dozen public officials will be involved.

Dayton told reporters Thursday he was planning to come prepared with an action plan for the sex offender program. He wouldn’t discuss details.

“It’s going to talk about what it would take in terms of legislative language and more important it’s going to talk about what it’s going to require in terms of money to get it started,” Dayton said.

In an order last week, Frank said the conference “will be closed to the public to allow the court to hear and assess remedy proposals” before a formal hearing at a later date. It will be presided over by a federal magistrate as well as a special master chosen by Frank.

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