Judges veto sealed deals 'A lot of merit' discovery is key issue

National Law Journal
Monday, August 12, 2002

Eight years ago, U.S. District Judge Joe Anderson proposed a dramatic change in the local rules of South Carolina's federal courts.

His goal: an end to court orders for lawyers wanting to seal settlement agreements.

His fellow judges didn't think much of the idea, and voted it down.

But this year, he kept hearing charges that secret settlements in pedophile priest cases have allowed child molesters to escape prosecution and abuse more children. And he recalled similar accusations in the Ford-Firestone tire controversy, where critics say hundreds of lives might have been saved if dangers revealed in early lawsuits hadn't been concealed by secret settlements.

The Center for Justice and Democracy, a consumer-oriented think tank opposed to secret settlements, says legislatures in at least seven states considered adding such anti-secrecy laws last year as the Ford/Firestone tire controversy drew national headlines.

Those measures died, however, under pressure from pro-business lobbyists, says Emily Gottlieb, the center's deputy director. But she and others say the activity in South Carolina suggests a new groundswell might be building. The recent accounting scandals at companies such as Enron and WorldCom, they suggest, have heightened the public's demand for more information about corporate activities.

For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D.

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