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High court sides with newspaper on court record access

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    NMU         MISSOURI         Secret Courts         Mar 23, 2001    

High court sides with newspaper on court record access

  • Lower courts improperly failed to apply a presumption in favor of open court records in an insurance receivership court case, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled.

A decision by the Supreme Court of Missouri on March 6 could lead to the disclosure of the salary of the supervisor who administers the receivership of a major insurance company.

The publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch appealed lower courts rulings that the court records, which include the salary of Burleigh Arnold, should remain sealed.

A receivership court appointed Arnold to oversee the financial business of what the court called the nation’s largest liquidation of an insurance company. The Post-Dispatch has been covering the Transit Casualty Company Receivership since it began more than a decade ago.

The state Supreme Court ruled that TCCR did not give a compelling reason to seal the records and the trial court did not apply a presumption in favor of open records.

TCCR claimed that the people affected by the receivership court decisions already have access to the records and the public would have no interest in the matter. Cole County Circuit Court Judge William Turnage in a 1998 ruling said TCCR’s reasoning was “credible and uncontradicted.”

The high court disagreed. It said that the right of public inspection of court records does not stem from personal interest in the subject matter but from a public interest in the “integrity and impartiality of its government.”

The court sent the case back to the trial court for a rehearing and instructed the trial court to follow the presumption that court records should be open if there is no compelling reason for them to be closed.

(Pulitzer Publishing Company v. Transit Casualty Company in Receivership; Media Counsel: Robert Hoemeke, Joseph Martineau, Lewis, Rice & Fingersh, St. Louis) EH

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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