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High court lets order silencing courtroom observers stand

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  1. Court Access

    NMU         TEXAS         Secret Courts         Dec 7, 1999    

High court lets order silencing courtroom observers stand

  • The state Supreme Court will not overturn an order requiring courtroom spectators to sign a confidentiality agreement regarding what is allegedly trade secret information.

The Texas Supreme Court in Austin on Dec. 3 refused without comment to overturn a Dallas trial court’s order that gives spectators to a commercial suit the choice of leaving the courtroom during certain portions of the trial or agreeing not to disclose information that they hear or see in the trial. Opening arguments for the trial took place on Dec. 6.

Samsung, one of the litigants, had appealed the trial court’s decision. If Samsung files a motion for reconsideration with the Texas Supreme Court, the Bloomberg news service expects to file a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Samsung’s position, according to Charles J. Glasser Jr., one of Bloomberg’s attorneys.

The Texas Supreme Court’s decision came one day after a panel of the Court of Appeals in Dallas — an intermediate state appellate court — stated that trial Judge David Evans had conducted adequate hearings concerning the trade secrets and the closing of the courtroom and that his order contains sufficient provisions for a review of any request for closure of the courtroom. “The policy of open court proceedings is not absolute and a courtroom may be closed to the public to protect trade secrets,” the intermediate appellate court concluded.

Evans’ Nov. 15 order states that members of the public who want to stay in the courtroom when certain exhibits or the contents and subject matter of those exhibits are discussed must sign a “Courtroom Spectator Confidentiality Order and Undertaking.” According to Evans’ order, the exhibits in question embody “the probable existence of a trade secret or other privileged information which has not been publically discussed.” Any spectator who signs and then violates the confidentiality order faces contempt of court charges and a possible civil suit for misappropriation of trade secrets.

Samsung and The Dallas Morning News had appealed Evans’ order, and Bloomberg had filed a friend-of-the-court brief as well. They argued that Evans’ order violates the U.S. and Texas constitutions and that it does not abide by federal or state standards for closing a courtroom or imposing a prior restraint.

DSC Communications brought the underlying lawsuit against Samsung Electronics in 1996 after Samsung allegedly hired nine DSC engineers. DSC alleged that Samsung was attempting to steal digital-switching technology. Since the initiation of the suit, DSC has been purchased by Alcatel, which has pressed forward with the action and is seeking $425 million in compensatory damages and an unspecified amount in punitive damages.

(In re Dallas Morning News, Inc.)

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