Judge rules media can be at Freedom Village hearings

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle/July 9, 2002
By Jack Jones

The media will not be barred from a trial to determine whether a teenage girl is being held against her will at a Yates County residential religious community.

A state Supreme Court justice has rejected a motion filed by the court-appointed law guardian for the 17-year-old Erie County girl.

Judge Kevin Dillon ruled that the courtroom will remain open, but he sealed from the media one exhibit that contains information about the family background of Sandra Brown, whose mother has filed a lawsuit to get her out of Freedom Village U.S.A., a residence for troubled teens.

Buffalo lawyer Michelle Brown, who is no relation to Sandra, said last week she moved to bar the media because "my client's right to privacy far outweighs the public right to know."

Freedom Village was founded in 1981 in Starkey, Yates County, by the Rev. Fletcher Brothers, a fundamentalist Christian minister from Rochester.

Sandra Brown's mother, Patricia Brown, has charged in court papers that Brothers has psychologically coerced her daughter into remaining at the camp for more than 4 years rather than return to her home in Hamburg, Erie County.

Patricia Brown's attorney, Susan Gray of Buffalo, on Monday applauded Dillon's ruling.

"I would expect both sides and the media to be sensitive about what happened to Sandra in her life before she was sent to Freedom Village," said Gray. "But I'm glad the court will not restrict the press from reporting on this trial. The full story of Freedom Village needs to be told."

After hearing preliminary arguments in the case last week, Dillon scheduled a trial for 1 p.m. Thursday in Buffalo to determine whether Sandra Brown has been illegally restrained by Brothers and Freedom Village staff members.

Brothers has filed a $10 million counter-suit against Patricia Brown, in which he alleges that he has been slandered in court documents filed in connection with Brown's illegal restraint lawsuit and in comments she has made to the press.

Brothers and camp officials say that troubled teens referred to the camp by parents, church groups and police agencies are free to leave whenever they choose.

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