September 15, 2014
They say Democracy dies in secrecy and transparency helps promote it. Unless we are talking about protection of trade secrets (an am trying to be as lenient as possible) I see no reason why the Public should not have access to the documents that have been filed in Court and should presumably be open for the public’s scrutiny.
In United States ex rel. Harman v. Trinity, a federal whistleblower case involving dangerously defective highway guardrails, the court has ordered Trinity Industries, Inc. to show why records in the case should remain sealed from public view after the trial. Over the course of the case, dozens of key briefs and pleadings were filed under seal without any showing that secrecy was warranted, in violation of the public’s presumptive right of access to court records. The secret documents may contain important information on the safety of Trinity’s guardrails, which have been linked to numerous deaths and serious injuries.
The court’s order was issued in response to a motion to intervene and unseal filed by Public Justice on behalf of two non-profit safety groups, the Center for Auto Safety and The Safety Institute. The nonprofits are seeking to open the records because of the serious safety risks posed by hundreds of thousands of guardrails that have been installed in all fifty states – with federal financial assistance – to protect people in highway crashes. U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap denied the motion to intervene on Sept. 4, but at the same time he affirmed the groups’ contention that Trinity must justify why these important records are shielded from public view.
Judge Gilstrap wrote: “the Court takes seriously the public’s right of access regarding trials and evidence presented in judicial proceedings, as well as the Court’s role in enforcing such access. Accordingly, following the trial and return of a verdict in this case, the Court will enter an Order requiring the parties to show good cause why previously sealed testimony, evidence or other material should remain under seal.”