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Open Court Proceedings/Challenges to Protective Orders

Rodriguez v. West Publishing Corp

Public Citizen represents Robert Gaudet, Jr., and three other objectors to a class action settlement in an antitrust case brought against West Publishing Corp. and Kaplan, Inc. The antitrust case was based on allegations that the companies conspired to avoid competition in the market for bar preparation courses nationwide. The settlement calls for cash payments to members of the class, who were purchasers of bar review courses. In approving the settlement, however, the district court refused to evaluate the fairness of the amount of the payments in comparison to the treble damages that the class would be entitled to under the antitrust laws if it were to prevail, and instead considered only single damages. In addition, the court acted on the basis of an almost entirely sealed record, even though no findings sufficient to support such blanket sealing had ever been made and the sealing inhibited class members’ ability to assess the fairness of the settlement.

The case is currently fully briefed and awaiting argument in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Verni v. Lanzaro

Public Citizen moved to intervene and unseal the record in a high-profile personal injury case in New Jersey. The plaintiff, a girl who was paralyzed by a drunk driver when she was two years old, initially won one of the highest personal injury awards in New Jersey's history. On appeal, however, the verdict was reversed, and when the case was returned to the trial court it sealed all future filings in the case, including the court's own decisions. Public Citizen argues that the public has a First Amendment and common-law right of access to the case file.

McMann v. Doe

The Superior Court of Arizona dismissed a Massachusetts real estate developer's lawsuit against the anonymous operator of an Internet gripe site. The court held that Paul McMann failed to substantiate his claims against the owner of the domain name paulmcmann.com, quashed a subpoena seeking the owner's identity, and dismissed the case. A nearly identical lawsuit by McMann had already been dismissed by another court.

Public Citizen Comments

Guidant v. Aspen

Two subsidiaries of Guidant Corporation, a maker and seller of cardiac devices, and which requires all customers to agree to keep prices confidential, sued Aspen, a consulting company, for obtaining information from hospitals about Guidant's prices using that information to advise other hospitals in their price negotiations with Guidant. On cross-motions for summary judgment on Guidant's trade secret and intentional interference with contract claims, the court found Aspen liable in part. The parties filed all of their summary judgment briefs and all of the supporting affidavits and exhibits under seal, without ever getting judicial approval for their sealing decisions. Public Citizen moved to intervene and to unseal all papers for which the parties cannot prove that a genuine need for confidentiality outweighs the public interest in open judicial records. The district court granted our motion to intervene and, in an initial ruling, ordered that all briefs and some of the supporting materials be unsealed. The secret status of some of the supporting materials remains to be addressed in a future ruling.

Chao v. Fitzsimmons

(Memorandum in support of motion for leave to examine quarterly reports of the court-appointed Independent Special Counsel under the government consent decree with the Central States Pension Fund)

Trahan v. Ford Motor Co., and Bridgestone / Firestone, Inc.

(Memorandum in support of plaintiff's motion to compel responses to discovery and in opposition to defendants' request for a protective order)

In re Petition of Bruce Craig

(Effort to Unseal McCarthy Era Grand Jury Files)

Michelin North America (Canada), Inc.

(opposing Michelin's request to seal trial exhibits and limit public access to trial proceedings in a wrongful death action)

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