Our View: A judge must consider sealing as the exception to the rule

The SE Texas Record Aug. 4, 2014, 3:49pm

Remember that candidate who campaigned for president promising to establish the most transparent administration ever?

He may not have delivered, but it was a good promise. 

Transparency is almost always a good thing in public offices and courts. If the public doesn’t know what’s going on in those fora, we can’t fulfill our obligation as citizens to monitor their activities, and the public offices and courts are no longer really public.

Certain facts, like names of informants and intimate details of people’s personal lives, may need to be kept quiet in court or at public meetings, but our right to know how jurists, legislators, and administrators reach their decisions should be interpreted as expansively as possible.

People tend to behave better when they are being watching. That’s as true of asbestos attorneys as it is of anyone.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr affirmed the public’s right to know when he overturned a lower court’s decision to seal documents and testimony in the bankruptcy estimation trial of Garlock Sealing Technologies.

“As a gatekeeper, a judge must consider sealing as the exception to the rule, give the public notice of its intent to seal, require counsel to provide valid reasons for such extraordinary relief, and then explain that decision as well as the reason why less drastic alternatives were not employed,” Cogburn wrote in his decision.

He emphasized that “the public and the press have a co-extensive right to view and consider documents tendered a judge and/or jury when a dispute is brought in the ultimate public forum, a courtroom.”

Soon to be available to public scrutiny are materials documenting the efforts of some plaintiffs and attorneys to increase recovery from Garlock by denying exposure to other asbestos products and delaying claims against asbestos trusts until after settlement.

Surely, we the public have a right to know when fraud occurs or is attempted.


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