USA Today has just run a startling and powerful editorial that shines a bright light on a dark practice. All too often, corporations that have manufactured defective and sometimes deadly products, or are engaged in other severely illegal behavior, ask courts to cover up the wrongdoing. Through the excessive use of secrecy orders, far too many courts have sealed evidence and allowed corporations to conceal facts that – if they had become publicly known – would have stopped dangerous and illegal behavior.
In particular, USA Today focuses on the case of Rich Barber, whom we had the privilege of successfully representing in a challenge to abusive court secrecy. Rich’s son was killed because a Remington rifle had fired without the trigger being pulled due to a design defect that Remington knew about and concealed for decades. USA Today argues that a pattern developed over a number of cases: a particular plaintiff would discover key internal documents of the gun manufacturer relating to the defect and its knowledge, and Remington would settle the cases and demand (and get) broad secrecy orders sealing up the evidence. As a result, the public didn’t learn of the defect for many years, and many more people died.
USA Today notes that Rich Barber’s work, and that of Public Justice, helped break down this wall of secrecy. Rich championed important legislation in Montana that now restricts courts from sealing records in cases involving public safety.
I urge you to read USA Today’s editorial in its entirety, and to share it with others. Their editorial board put the entire problem in perspective:
Clever use of court secrecy – confidential settlements and ‘protective orders’ to seal documents – helped keep evidence of the rifle’s potential dangers under wraps. Had court documents been public, injuries might have been prevented and lives saved.
This blog originally appeared in publicjustice.net on December 30, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
About the authors
F. Paul Bland, Jr., Executive Director, has been a senior attorney at Public Justice since 1997. As Executive Director, Paul manages and leads a staff of nearly 30 attorneys and other staff, guiding the organization’s litigation docket and other advocacy.
Leslie A. Bailey represents consumers who have been cheated, advocates for the public’s right of access to court records, and litigates complex public interest appeals in federal and state courts throughout the country. As a leading expert on the enforceability of arbitration clauses in consumer contracts, she has represented plaintiffs and amici in numerous arbitration-related appeals