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City cannot seal settlement in police shooting case

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  1. Court Access

    NMU         MARYLAND         Secret Courts         Sep 14, 2000    

City cannot seal settlement in police shooting case

  • The state high court ruled that the City of Baltimore could not circumvent the tradition of open courts merely by agreeing to a confidential settlement.

The Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, upheld the tradition of open courts and ordered a “confidential” settlement be unsealed. The settlement arose from a lawsuit filed by the family of a man who had been shot and killed by a Baltimore police officer. The parties agreed to a confidential settlement of the eve of trial. They asked the judge to close the courtroom and seal the settlement records, and the judge complied.

The Baltimore Sun attempted to join the suit to object to the closing of the court and the sealing of the documents. The judge denied the motion.

The Sun also requested access from the city to the settlement documents pursuant to Maryland’s Public Information Act, but the city refused to release the documents and the judge dismissed the newspaper’s claim to enforce the Public Information Act.

Noting the long-standing tradition of openness in the American judicial system, the Court of Appeals found no statute or controlling case law warranting secrecy in this particular case. Thus, the settlement agreement was unsealed to reveal the family of the slain man had asked for $2 million in damages. The city paid the family $500,000 to settle the case out of court.

(The Baltimore Sun Co. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore; Media Counsel: Mary Craig, Towson) AG

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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