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State Ethics Commissions' Confidentiality Statute Unconstitutional

By FindLaw Staff | Last updated on

Stilp v. Contino, 09-3016, concerned a government watchdog's section 1983 suit, challenging the constitutionality of a statute mandating confidentiality in proceedings before the State Ethics Commission.  In affirming the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of the statute, the court held that section 1108(k), to the extent it prohibits a complainant from disclosing his own complaint and the fact that is was filed, unconstitutionally constrains political speech in violation of the First Amendment.

The court reiterated the Supreme Court's decision in Landmark Communications, Inc. v. Virginia, 435 U.S. 829 (1978), in holding the Virginia confidentiality statute unconstitutional: "It is true that some risk of injury to the judge under inquiry, to the system of justice, or to the operation of the Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission may be posed by premature disclosure, but the test requires that the danger be 'clear and present' and in our view the risk here falls far short of that requirement."

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