Bernie Madoff has asked for early release from his 150 year prison sentence (he’s served 11 years) due to his terminal kidney failure.  The ultimate decision is up to the Judge Denny Chin, and as he weighs the decision, Madoff victims are sending letters stating their views.


Attorneys for The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a coalition of 27 media organizations have asked the court to release the letters.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office has proposed releasing the letters in redacted form – with information identifying the victim removed.


There are First Amendment arguments on the side of the Reporter’s Committee.  But there is a practical argument as well.  One question that comes immediately to mind is whether some victim letters have more impact – based on the identity of the victim – than others.  The only way to determine that is to see who said what.


And ultimately, what the Reporters Committee is asking for is not automatic disclosure.  If any victim can show an overriding need for privacy, the court can grant that request.  But that should be the exception not the rule. The U.S. Attorney’s approach flips it – privacy is automatic – and that is not the correct approach in a system where justice is supposed to be transparent.