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Court limits corporate trial secrecy
Supporters say rule helps; foes expecting chaos

By Dennis Wagner
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 9, 2002

The Arizona Supreme Court has adopted a rule that supporters say will expose business corruption and protect the public from unsafe products and financial scams.

The regulation bans civil courts from keeping secret discovery materials, including corporate documents and depositions, unless a judge finds that the need for confidentiality outweighs a public interest of getting the truth out.

Attorney Richard Langerman maintains that past court-authorized secrecy has prevented people from learning about dangerous tires, environmental threats, accounting fraud and scandals such as priestly pedophilia in the Catholic Church.

Now records of misconduct cannot be hidden, said Langerman, who represented the Arizona Trial Lawyers Association in fighting for the rule.

Amendments to the measure, Rule 26(c), take effect next month. Foes say they will create a judicial nightmare and violate corporations' privacy and property rights.

In its decision, the high court rejected arguments from a powerful coalition of opponents, including the state's major law firms, Maricopa County Superior Court civil judges, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and industry associations.

During a fierce contest of legal briefs, critics said the rule change will bog down the justice system, increase litigation costs and allow consumer lawyers to extort unfair settlements by threatening negative publicity against defendants. Some also protested that judges have no business considering the public's welfare during civil cases.

Phoenix attorney Daniel McAuliffe said it is "nonsense" to think that the amended rule will make Arizonans safer from corporate misconduct. He and Andy Federhar, attorney for the state chamber, said there is not one Arizona case where the public was hurt by a seal on evidence.

Langerman described litigation against Bridgestone/Firestone tires as "the poster child of why we need this." In the mid-1990s, Firestone was sued repeatedly over blowouts that reportedly caused more than 200 deaths. The company turned over reams of information about the tires under court rules, Langerman said, but avoided public disclosure and government regulation by settling cases confidentially.

"How many extra people were killed and maimed because the information was kept secret?" he asked. " . . . In the modern era when countless lives and limbs have been lost from Dalkon Shield IUDs and Firestone tires, in a time when millions of citizens have seen their life savings destroyed by Arthur Andersen or Enron-style accounting, public access to information is more important than ever."

While most critics predict the rule will bring legal chaos, Federhar said Supreme Court justices carefully crafted it so that, in essence, nothing actually changes. Judges still have discretion to issue protective orders, he noted, and in most cases no one objects.

The controversy erupted two years ago in the Legislature when then-Sen. Scott Bundgaard proposed legislation to change the rules. After failing to win Senate approval, Bundgaard filed a petition with the Supreme Court.

Langerman said the senator "paid a dear political price" for championing the change, losing the Republican primary this year because Arizona's business community turned against him.

Bundgaard said his recommendation was watered down but still represents "a bold step in the right direction that . . . will benefit consumers."

Article END

Commentary by

Efforts to end litigation secrecy are going to fix much social nastiness that currently tries to pass as acceptable, ordinary conduct.

"Some also protested that judges have no business considering the public's welfare during civil cases.!!

I cannot disagree more with that statement.

Anyone familiar with Scientology's patterns of conduct knows that David Miscavige's Scientology doesn't want these changes. The fact that they are needed allows scientology, and corrupt organizations such as Enron and WorldCom, the short term apparancy of prosperity.

Opposition to these noble efforts by the Supreme Court of Arizona as well as the efforts of Chief Judge Anderson of the South Carolina Federal District [ see recent NY Times Article ] should be framed as being supportive of shams such as Enron, WorldCom and scientology.

"That's what really lit my fuse," the judge said. "It meant that secrecy was something bought and sold right under a judge's nose."
Chief Judge Joseph F. Anderson Jr

As we, referring to those who have been fighting for years to expose Scientology, having survived this long, should now 'turn the fact of scientology' to our advantage to help force desperately needed reforms to make the landscape of society less fertile for shams in general, while there still is a Scientology organization to use as such a good the example of opportunistic abuse.

Scientology has already found almost everything that is wrong with our society... and they have used it, and abused it, but they have done this one thing very well, Scientology, has located, for us, those individuals and institutions that are corruptible.

It would be a shame to merely pound scientology into the ground, when we could turn the mere fact of scientology being able to grow in this society to advantage, instead of continuing to only try and pull this weed out by its roots

Those awake enough to notice will see that we are being handed a crow bar to force beneficial social change on behalf of the little guy.

Let's make the soil more fertile for those organizations that have social value, while discouraging weeds to grow. Instead of merely trying to pull this one obnoxious weed out by its roots.

Arnie Lerma
Citizens Against Corruption
Arlington Virginia

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