Brent Coon's secrets

The SE Texas Record Feb. 20, 2010, 7:35am

Individuals trying to pull a fast one often insist that their actions are "in the public interest."

"In the public interest" is used as a password or magic wand, for those seeking access, power, or information not otherwise available.

If you said, "I want to acquire wealth by controlling the market," you wouldn't get very far. But say, instead, "the market must be regulated in the public interest," and doors start to swing open.

Enter millionaire Beaumont asbestos attorney Brent Coon, who has earned his vast wealth claiming he's an advocate for the public interest. Of course, his lawsuits on behalf of the "working man" seem to benefit Coon as much or more than most.

Just how much Coon has benefited he wants to keep secret. Apparently, in his public interest work he prefers keeping the public disinterested. That's why Coon asked Judge Milton Shuffield this month to permanently seal a final judgment award in his court, one that involves his share of fees in certain asbestos cases.

Coon and his billionaire ex-boss, Walter Umphrey, have been dueling it out in courts over old asbestos fees. Now that resolution has been reached, Coon wants to keep the details to himself.

"The application and the award contain information that is private and of a confidential nature, in which the public has no interest," Coon asserted in his motion to seal. "The movants' right to privacy is not outweighed by any presumption of openness, probable adverse affect upon (the) general public health or safety, or public interest."

Amazingly, Judge Shuffield obliged his request, buying Coon's unimpressive argument that he has a "right to privacy" over proceedings in a public, taxpayer-funded courtroom. With such decisions, it's no wonder America's asbestos lawsuit monster grew unchecked in the first place.

Not so fast, Brent. We have an abiding interest in financial spoils you attained using the people's civil justice system. We think Judge Shuffield should unseal your award and let the public decide whose "interests" were best served by your actions.

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