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Depositions in settled Columbine High School case to be destroyed

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Depositions in settled Columbine High School case to be destroyed

  • A magistrate judge ordered five depositions destroyed, despite a settlement agreement that requires complete confidentiality.

Sep. 30, 2003 — A Colorado magistrate judge ordered the destruction of depositions in a recently settled lawsuit stemming from the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, ruling last week that “there would be no further purpose, need or use” for the documents.

Barry Arrington, attorney for the five families who sued the parents of teenage killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, said he will appeal U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Coan’s order.

“We didn’t get a hearing,” said Arrington. “This ruling was made without any due process of law.”

What’s more, Arrington said, two other Columbine-related lawsuits have yet to be finalized, counter to findings in Coan’s Sept. 23 ruling. Arrington represents the plaintiffs in each of those cases, which are currently on appeal, he says.

The settlement agreement between the five families and the parents of Klebold and Harris is confidential, lawyers from both sides said. The settlements were made in mid-August and include an agreement to keep the depositions confidential. According to legal experts, however, Coan apparently has little faith the agreement will be honored.

“Courts have wide discretion” in protecting records, said Sheila Hyatt, a professor of civil procedure at the University of Denver College of Law, in a Denver Post column Sept. 28. “The parties here are so concerned about the release of these depositions that they think the only way to prevent leaks is to actually destroy them.”

In April, U.S. District Judge Lewis T. Babcock issued a gag order preventing all parties from discussing the depositions. The deposed parties were Susan and Thomas Klebold, Wayne and Katherine Harris, and Judy Brown, a parent of a Columbine High student who received death threats from Eric Harris well prior to the April 20, 1999, shootings. Since Coan’s order, Arrington said, all copies of the depositions have been rounded up by a court administrator and are being held under lock and key.

The five families who brought suit against the Klebolds and Harrises say they fear the public may now never have the opportunity to learn from their experiences.

“It is too late for our children, but it is not too late to prevent the next shootings,” said Dawn Anna, the mother of slain student Lauren Townsend, in a Denver Post story. “And our hearts ache to know that the next shooting might not be prevented.”

Approximately 30 families of students injured or killed during the school shootings settled their suits in 2001 against the Harrises and Klebolds. The 30 families will split $2.8 million.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed 12 students, one teacher, and wounded dozens of others at Columbine High School before committing suicide.

(Rohrbough v. Stone) JL

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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