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Tennessee court considers family involvement in Covenant School shooter records case.

The legal battle surrounding ⁤the release of writings​ left behind by the March 27 Covenant School‌ shooter ⁣continues in Nashville, as the Tennessee Court‍ of Appeals heard ⁢oral arguments on ‌Monday over whether families of the schoolchildren should be granted legal standing to ‌intervene in a Tennessee Public ⁢Records Act (TPRA) case.

The case could set‌ a precedent ​and raises questions‍ about the balance between public interest and personal ⁣privacy in the aftermath of ‌traumatic events.

Nearly seven months‍ ago, a shooter entered the Covenant School, a private Christian school located on the⁣ campus of Covenant Presbyterian Church, leaving six dead, including ​three children.

Metropolitan Nashville Police‌ Department (MNPD) has kept various ‌records related to the incident, ⁤including a “manifesto”‍ from the shooter,⁤ under wraps, prompting appeals ⁤from‌ media outlets ​and other organizations for the release of these ‍documents.

Monday’s‌ hearing ⁤and the focus​ of ⁢the appellate court panel stems from a lower court allowing the Covenant School parents, church, and⁤ school to join ⁣the lawsuit as third-party interveners. The‌ plaintiffs, ‍who disagreed ⁢with that decision, took their appeal to the higher court on ​May​ 30.

Arguments in the lower court over the ​merits of the case have not even been argued yet—as the immediate appeal of⁣ the court’s decision⁣ to allow intervention led‍ the higher court to ‍issue a stay⁤ to halt those proceedings back‍ in June as the appeal process ‍plays out.

Originally, the lower court under Davison County Chancellor I’Ashea Myles declined to put⁣ the proceedings on hold, but the appellate court’s​ order took precedence⁢ over her ruling. The reason given by the‌ higher court was ⁢to⁢ ensure all parties’ rights were adequately protected ‍during the appeal process.

Balancing Transparency and Trauma

Attorneys for ​the families asserted that the release of the shooter’s⁣ manifesto could have devastating ⁣psychological ‍impacts on the surviving ⁤victims and their families.

They ⁣argue that this is not ⁤merely a policy consideration but⁣ a matter ​of ⁤”life ⁤and‌ death,” ​and thus they ⁣should be‍ permitted to intervene under Rule 24 of the‍ Rules of Civil ​Procedure.

Mourners ‍observe the makeshift memorial at ‌The Covenant School in ‍the​ Green Hills neighborhood of Nashville on March 31, ⁤2023, four days after six‌ were killed⁤ at the ‌school⁢ in a shooting. (Chase Smith/The Epoch⁣ Times)

“Let ‌me talk about the parents’ ​interest, because I⁣ just​ cannot emphasize enough,⁣ that for the parents, this case is literally a matter ⁤of life and ​death,” Eric Osborne,​ attorney ⁣for the Covenant School⁤ families, ‍told the court on Monday.

He said later on that the ⁣release of‌ documents would only “aggravate and grow” the psychological harm of the Covenant ⁣School children—and that the parents ought to be able to participate in ​the case as intervenors to make that case.

“The simple fact is that the record that​ we have presented shows that there is a very ​real​ risk that⁣ if the shooter’s writings are released, one or more children may⁣ harm themselves,”⁢ Osborne said. “It has happened time and time ​in⁢ the past from⁣ school shootings, and we have a unique ​opportunity here to try to ​prevent ‌these writings from coming out ⁣to try to protect these children.”

In contrast, legal counsel for media outlets suggests that permitting such intervention ⁣would fundamentally⁤ alter the “bilateral” nature of​ TPRA requests and set a troubling precedent.

“The⁤ TPRA ‍creates a simple, unique and expeditious process for adjudicating public records disputes,” Paul Krog, the ‌attorney for⁣ Star News ‍Digital Media but speaking on behalf of several of the​ appellees, said.‌ “That process leaves no room⁢ for intervention and practically speaking, cannot readily accommodate it. ⁢The Court should hold that‍ the TPRA⁤ does not permit third party intervention in this nature.”

Krog argued that the appellants‍ have not articulated their⁢ interests as a “cognizable legal claim,” thus questioning⁢ their standing in the ⁤matter.

Complex‌ Legal Landscape

Lora ‍Fox, representing MNPD ⁢and Metro Nashville, argued that ​the TPRA sets up a multilateral, not bilateral, process.

“The appellants are mistaken when they‍ argue that the⁤ Tennessee⁤ Public Records Act sets up a⁣ bilateral​ process between the requester and the government,” she said. “It sets​ up an extremely multilateral process.”

Fox noted that hundreds of exceptions in the act exist ‌precisely to protect private individuals and their information.

“The statute envisions that the government would have⁤ certainly the first crack at looking​ at whether there’s⁢ exceptions, but we ⁣have no case law saying that it is the only crack‌ or that⁣ anyone who ⁣this ⁣exception has purposefully been ⁣designed‍ to benefit⁣ should not have a voice,” she argued.

Krog earlier stated that by‌ allowing more ⁢parties‍ to participate—the suit would ​become too crowded‍ to ensure a ​timely appeal be heard⁣ in regard to the original public records request ⁢denial. He argued this could create a ⁤precedent that would go against the TPRA’s​ intent of‌ speedy public records disputes.

Fox disagreed, stating it is “not going to be a situation where every⁢ public records request turns out to ‍become a two-year process,” indicating the length of ⁣time she ​believes this appeal may‍ end up taking.

She emphasized that ​intervention is not about slowing⁣ down the public records process but​ ensuring ‍that when “such an important interest in⁢ protecting​ private ⁢information” is at⁤ stake, those persons should ‍have ⁤a voice.

The home of the Nashville Christian⁤ School shooter sits‍ quietly in its ⁢south Nashville⁤ neighborhood on March 31, 2023, days⁣ after police agencies raided ‌the home ‌following the shooting. (Chase​ Smith/The Epoch Times)

Fox further stated that Metro and MNPD had ​a “conflict[ing]” view of the third-party intervenors from‍ the church ‍and school,‌ noting that​ at ⁢the end of the investigation, Metro “believes that under existing case law, the criminal investigation mostly becomes a public record.”

“The families say no, under the exceptions⁢ that ‍they assert, and their constitutional rights, they argue that none of the investigation files should become a ⁤public record,” she said. “And ​so not⁤ only do I not represent them, but Metro has a different position than the victims in this ‍case.”

She added: “This​ is an ongoing criminal investigation, but ⁢that criminal investigation will ⁢end at‍ some​ point in ⁤the relatively near future. The school safety exception has been asserted, the school and ⁣the families who are the⁢ victims at that school ​are allowed by law to participate.”

Questions ​of ⁣Jurisdiction and ⁣Discretion

The court⁢ also delved into⁢ issues‍ surrounding ‍trial ‌court​ discretion under Tennessee court rules and procedures. Attorneys for the families highlighted​ that trial courts are ⁤”gatekeepers” and ​should continue to have discretion to allow or ‌disallow ⁢interventions, especially in ‍cases involving extreme ⁣sensitivity.

Krog posited that the court could ‍not ⁤depart from the text​ of ​the statute to ⁣give ⁤voices ⁢to these families in ⁢a way​ that the legislature has not provided for. He cited similar‌ cases⁢ in Michigan, which has a similar statutory standing jurisdiction rule,⁣ where the court held that such rule ⁣prohibits intervention.

What Comes Next?

The appellate court has adjourned without providing an ⁢immediate decision. An appeals court⁤ clerk said a ⁢decision by the‌ panel‍ could take ‌“days, weeks, or months.”

Should the families⁤ keep ⁤legal standing to intervene, it‌ may establish a⁤ landmark⁢ decision concerning TPRA ⁤cases,‌ particularly those involving sensitive or ⁢traumatic events.

This case ​has put ⁢the spotlight ⁣on the perennial tension between the public’s right to know and the psychological and emotional​ toll on victims and their families—a matter which several of the attorneys alluded to should be discussed ‍as policy ‍ideas by the state legislature.

What factors does the Tennessee Court of⁤ Appeals need to consider in ⁢determining whether the families of the schoolchildren should be granted legal standing to intervene in the TPRA case?

:⁢ Finding a Resolution in the Tennessee Court of Appeals

The legal battle surrounding⁣ the ⁢release of writings left behind by the March 27 Covenant School shooter ⁤continues to unfold in Nashville. In a recent development, the Tennessee Court of Appeals‍ heard oral arguments on Monday regarding whether the families of the schoolchildren should be granted legal standing to ‍intervene in a Tennessee Public Records Act (TPRA) ⁣case.

This case has the potential ‍to⁢ set a precedent and raises important questions about the balance between ‌public interest​ and ⁢personal privacy in the aftermath of‍ traumatic events.

Nearly seven months ⁢ago, a tragic shooting ⁣took place at the Covenant School, a private Christian school located ⁤on the campus of Covenant Presbyterian ‌Church. ​The incident resulted in ‌six⁢ fatalities, ‌including three children.

The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department (MNPD) has held various records related to the ⁤incident, including a “manifesto” from ⁤the shooter, ⁣under wraps. This⁤ has prompted appeals from‍ media‍ outlets ⁢and other organizations for the release​ of these⁢ documents.

The⁤ focus of Monday’s hearing and the appellate court panel is rooted in a lower ⁤court’s decision to ‌allow the Covenant‍ School parents, ⁣church,⁢ and school ⁤to join the lawsuit as ⁤third-party ⁢interveners. ⁢The ‍plaintiffs, who disagreed​ with⁢ this decision, filed an appeal⁤ with the higher court ​on May 30.

Interestingly, the lower court​ has not yet heard‍ arguments ‍on ‍the merits of the case. The immediate appeal of the​ court’s​ decision to allow intervention resulted in a⁢ stay issued by the higher⁢ court ​back ⁢in June, halting the proceedings during the appeal process.

Originally, ‌the lower court, ​under Davison County Chancellor I’Ashea Myles,⁣ declined to‌ put the proceedings on⁢ hold. ⁢However, the appellate court’s order‍ took precedence over her ruling. The higher court justified their decision by asserting the need to ensure all⁣ parties’ rights are adequately protected during⁢ the appeal process.

This legal battle highlights the‍ delicate balance between the public’s right⁢ to transparency and the⁢ potential retraumatization of the ​victims’ families. ⁢On one ‍hand, there ⁢is a valid argument for the release⁤ of‌ these documents in the interest⁤ of public safety and​ ensuring accountability. On‍ the other hand, ​it is essential to prioritize the well-being and privacy of those directly impacted by the tragic event.

The‍ decision reached by the Tennessee Court of Appeals will⁣ have far-reaching implications. ​It will ‍determine whether the families of⁣ the schoolchildren will be ⁤granted legal standing to intervene in the TPRA case and whether the writings left behind ​by the shooter will ⁤eventually be made public.

This⁤ case highlights the ⁣broader issue ⁤of balancing transparency and trauma in similar​ situations. While ​public interest in



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