After media intervened, a federal judge found that defendants did not have "good cause" for such a broad order.
Even before discovery had begun, defendants in a suit prompted by the Enron collapse sought a broad protective order preventing documents from being disclosed to the public. But seven media organizations intervened to oppose such an order, and U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon ruled Dec. 19 that the court cannot impose a broad protective order that shields all discovery from public scrutiny.
Enron defendants argued that many of the documents produced in discovery may contain trade secrets, confidential communications, sensitive private personnel file information and financial documents. However, the fact that some documents may contain information that could legitimately be the subject of a protective order does not mean that all documents produced should be protected, Harmon found.
"It is incumbent upon the defendants in the case, if they want parts of their discovery protected, to move in good faith for a particularized protective order," Harmon ruled. "The burden is on the party wishing to obtain a protective order to show that good cause exists for the order."
The media organizations — Dow Jones & Co., Inc., The New York Times Co., The Washington Post, USA Today, The Houston Chronicle, ABC and The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press — argued that "the substantive information contained in the documents to be produced is of overwhelming interest to the public."
Harmon is the judge who held unpublished book author Vanessa Leggett in contempt of court last year for refusing to divulge her sources and turn over all her materials to a grand jury investigating a murder.
(In re Enron Corp. Securities Litigation: Media Counsel: David H. Donaldson, Jr., George & Donaldson, LLP, Austin, Texas) — ST