If a lawsuit is filed and the parties decide to settle before the case gets to court, how can you know what evidence each party found to support their case? You can’t. Chances are good the defendant requested the court to seal the documents, meaning it would not be available to other lawyers, journalists, or the general public.
Over the years, attorneys for corporations have managed to convince the courts their clients need protection from the public, rather than the other way around. The courts’ willingness to go along with this has only endangered consumers who were prevented from being made aware of things like the dangers of opioids, weak car roofs, or guns with faulty triggers.
Over the years, various legislators and judges have acknowledged there are problems with the current system of sealing court documents, but so far they have been either unwilling or unable to make the necessary changes to protect consumers.
When the first rules allowing judges to seal court documents were created, they initially allowed judges to decide which documents to shield by considering them on a case-by-case basis. The rules were later broadened to include anything with the potential to embarrass or annoy a corporation.
When the rules were first enacted, they were used sparingly, but have since become routine and are used seemingly any time a corporation is made to defend its actions in court.
In theory, judges are supposed to weigh the benefits to companies against the potential harm to the public before approving the sealing of certain documents. In practice, judges almost always approve filing evidence under seal, even when public health and safety information is involved. Judges are also required to explain their reasoning in approving or denying filing evidence under seal, but the reality is they rarely do so.
Once a document has been sealed, it can be unsealed, but only with for a very compelling reason. Judges who approve a request to seal documents are required to specify any findings or conclusions that might justify unsealing the documents in the future. This holds true even if there was never any objection to sealing the documents in the first place.
The phrase “let the buyer beware” is well known, but our key phrase at Lubin Austermuehle is “let the victimized and defrauded be aware there is a trusted resource in the area ready to protect and defend their rights. We are available throughout the area, from Oak Park to Park Ridge and beyond. Act now. Take advantage of our FREE consultation where we can discuss your legal issues and needs and our ability to meet (and exceed) your expectations. Call 630-333-0333 or contact us via our website by clicking here. We look forward to speaking with you.