A Superior Court judge will decide whether to publicly identify the man who sued Bryon Hefner and his husband, former Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, after their attorneys argued Wednesday that publicly unmasking Hefner’s accuser would create a “fair playing field.”
Hefner and Rosenberg’s moves drew a stiff rebuke from the man’s attorneys, who told Judge Robert N. Tochka that they’ve never before had a defendant challenge their request to seal an alleged sexual assault victim’s name from public view.
Hefner already faces multiple criminal counts of sexual assault. The man — identified as John Doe in court papers — is one of the “complainants” whose allegations helped prosecutors build their criminal case, according to his attorney, William H. Gordon.
“We’ve done hundreds and hundreds of cases in Massachusetts. We’ve done hundreds of cases outside Massachusetts,” said Gordon, who’s representing the man along with attorney Mitchell Garabedian. “No one has ever opposed this before, in our experience.”
Tochka did not issue a ruling Wednesday. He took the case last week after the original judge, Debra A. Squires-Lee, recused herself. She did not disclose why.
Rosenberg and Hefner challenged the motion to keep the man’s name private weeks after he filed the civil lawsuit against them, alleging that Hefner, 31, sexually assaulted him at least three times in 2015 and 2016.
The man also alleged that Rosenberg, 68, “knew or was aware” that Hefner posed a risk to others, yet continually allowed his husband access to State House staff, lobbyists, and others, according to the lawsuit.
Michael J. Pineault, who is representing Rosenberg, argued that shielding the man’s name undercuts the public’s “right to the full understanding of these judicial proceedings.” Pineault said that publicly releasing the accuser’s name could create more balance in media coverage of the case.
Pineault also criticized the inclusion of a letter from a psychiatrist that the man filed to support his claims that revealing his name would be detrimental. Pineault said it appeared that the accuser met with the psychiatrist in a single, 45-minute session.
“We’re prejudiced because the playing field is not level,” Pineault told the judge. “Having to stand behind your allegations publicly promotes accountability, and it promotes credibility and truthfulness.”
Tracy A. Miner, Hefner’s attorney, said she too has concerns about having a “fair playing field.”
“They [put] my client’s name out there with all of these allegations — they are just allegations, obviously — while they are seeking to have their name protected,” she said.
Speaking afterward to reporters, Garabedian argued that Hefner and Rosenberg had already endured public scrutiny for months before the suit was filed. Rosenberg stepped down from his leadership post and then resigned after his colleagues found “significant failures of judgment and leadership” in his own conduct.
“In terms of a level playing field, they have a client who has been indicted and another client who was the subject of a scathing report by the government,” Garabedian said.
Neither Rosenberg nor Hefner were present in court Wednesday.
Garabedian told reporters it’s a “possibility” his client could ultimately choose to publicly identify himself at some point. But he told the judge he’s prepared to ask for other accommodations if his client indeed wants to remain anonymous, including closing the court room during a potential trial “if need be.”
The man said in court documents he continues to suffer from depression, anxiety, and physical ailments, including gastrointestinal problems, as a result of the alleged assaults.
The lawsuit accuses Rosenberg of making “excuses” for Hefner’s conduct and “equipping defendant Hefner with the tools to act as an actual agent for” the Amherst Democrat.
The 16-page complaint charges it was Rosenberg who subjected the plaintiff, and others, to Hefner even though Rosenberg “knew or was aware that defendant Hefner posed a substantial risk of serious harm.”
The plaintiff said he did not report Hefner because he feared Rosenberg would retaliate against him.