First Amendment Coalition seeks to unseal Carman documents


CONCORD, N.H. — The New England First Amendment Coalition (NEFAC) is fighting an effort to keep judicial records sealed in a case involving Nathan Carman, a Vermont resident being investigated for the murder of his wealthy grandfather and the disappearance of his mother.

Family members are suing Carman in a New Hampshire probate court to prevent him from collecting his mother's share of their estate. The court last month ordered all documents in the case to be sealed.

A reporter from the New Hampshire Union Leader of Manchester, N.H., objected to the order and filed a motion to unseal the documents. NEFAC supported the motion in a Tuesday 10 legal memorandum submitted to the court.

"The courts of New Hampshire have always considered their records to be public, absent some overriding consideration or special circumstance," stated attorney Gregory V. Sullivan on behalf of the coalition and the Union Leader. Sullivan is a member of NEFAC's board of directors.

Privacy is not a sufficient reason to keep the records secret, because the documents pertain to Carman's grandfather, who is deceased, Sullivan wrote. There is also no evidence that releasing the documents would interfere with the federal and state investigations into the grandfather's death, he added.

Carman's aunts — Valerie Santilli, Elaine Chakalos and Charlene Gallagher — have filed a so-called "slayer petition" in New Hampshire probate court seeking to have a judge declare that he murdered his grandfather, John Chakalos, in December 2013 in Windsor, Conn. Chakalos owned a second home in Chesterfield, N.H., that he decked out with thousands of Christmas lights every year.

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Carman's aunts also contend he is responsible for the presumed death of his mother, Linda Carman, who was on a boat with her son when it sank during a fishing trip in September 2016. Linda Carman's body has not been found. Nathan Carman told his rescuers he survived on a raft for eight days floating in the Atlantic Ocean.

"The details of those trust documents are pertinent in the ongoing criminal investigations into the murder of John C. Chakalos and the disappearance of Linda Carman," attorney William Saturley wrote on behalf of Carman's aunts. "Disclosing the contents of the trust documents may impede those ongoing investigations."

While Carman has had access to a $400,000 joint account that was once owned by him, his grandfather and his mother, John Chakalos left behind a $40 million estate and Carman's aunts don't want him to inherit any of it.

NEFAC is requesting from the court an opportunity to present an oral argument in support of unsealing the documents.

Sullivan last month successfully prevented New Hampshire prosecutors from compelling a Foster's Daily Democrat reporter to provide unpublished interview notes. NEFAC criticized the prosecutors' attempt as "an affront to the First Amendment."

Earlier this month, the coalition argued against the sealing of court records in a civil rights case involving Harvard College's admissions practices.

NEFAC, formed in 2006, advocates for the First Amendment and the public's right to know.


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