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Domestic violence victim suing prosecutor over being named

August 17, 2021 GMT

A New Jersey woman who killed her abusive ex-fiance can proceed with a lawsuit that claims her rights as a domestic violence victim were violated when a county prosecutor publicly identified her, an appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The suit alleges the woman’s civil rights were violated in 2016 when former Warren County Prosecutor Richard Burke identified her after a grand jury declined to indict her. A lower court had dismissed the suit, saying the prosecutor was informing the public about the completion of a criminal investigation.

According to court documents, the woman’s ex-fiance drove from Florida to New Jersey to confront her, armed with a handgun, knives, zip ties and duct tape. After sexually assaulting her, tying her up and threatening to kill her, he allegedly told her to kill him with his own gun or else he would shoot her. She shot him in the shoulder and he died at the scene.

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The lawsuit alleged that after the grand jury declined to indict her, Burke disclosed the results of the investigation as well as her identity, “for the purpose of political and/or personal gain.” The suit named Burke, the prosecutor’s office, the county and former state attorneys general Christopher Porrino and Gurbir Grewal.

In Tuesday’s ruling, the appeals court reversed the lower court and held that the woman’s civil rights claim against Burke can go forward, along with invasion of privacy and negligence claims against all defendants.

While the three-judge panel conceded it didn’t have enough facts to assess the validity of the claims, it wrote that at the heart of state laws on crime victims’ rights is “the right by the victim of a sexual assault with domestic violence not to be identified by name to the press. It bores further into the core of this right when the details of the assault are disclosed, and the disclosure allegedly was for personal or political purposes.”

Robert Lytle, an attorney representing the woman, identified as Jane Doe, said in an email that the ruling “serves to both extend and reinforce the important protections afforded to crime victims by the New Jersey Constitution and the statutes adopted by our legislature.”

Burke currently serves in the attorney general’s office’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability. The attorney general’s office declined to comment on the case Tuesday. A message was left with the Warren County prosecutor’s office.