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S.B. v. SS.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court

December 22, 2020

S.B. v. SS. involved a contentious custody dispute. After a twenty-three day trial, Father was awarded custody of Child. A few weeks before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied allocatur, Mother’s attorney held a press conference on YOUTube, expressing Mother’s fervent disagreement with the trial court’s findings and orders. While Child was not named during the press conference, the attorney identified Mother by name and, notably, included a link providing access to a reproduction of Child’s in-court testimony and forensic interview, during which Child set forth detailed allegations of Father’s sexual abuse, which the trial court had deemed unfounded. Mother’s name was included in the documents, while Child’s name was redacted and replaced by the first letter of his first name. Three weeks later, an article about the matter appeared in the Pittsburgh City Paper, quoting the identical intimate and detailed account of Child’s sexual abuse allegations highlighted in Mother’s press conference. Although the article did not state the name of Child, Mother, or Father, it referenced Child’s age and the first name of Child’s best friend. Father filed a motion, seeking an order prohibiting Mother and her counsel from speaking publicly about the case in any forum and directing them to remove any information about the case that they had posted publicly or disseminated. The trial court granted the order, and the Superior Court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed and held that the gag order, which precluded a parent and her attorneys from speaking publicly about a custody case in a manner that would identify the child involved, did not violate the parties’ rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution or Article I, § 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

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