Journal moves to unseal secret tobacco company settlement
NEVADA–Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal, filed an emergency motion in federal District Court in Las Vegas to unseal a secret settlement agreement and related court documents reportedly concerning a case between law enforcement officials and the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company in late January.
Specific facts of the case are unknown. All information concerning the action was sealed, other than the presiding judge’s initials, the dates of the filing and the settlement, and the case’s designation as a civil action.
The publisher argued that there was no record of whether the court had held a hearing prior to sealing the documents, or whether the court entertained any objections to closure. The Journal said it learned that the parties included Brown & Williamson and law enforcement officials from a confidential source.
The documents the newspaper requested, including the docket, the complaint and the answer, are records “imperative to the judicial process,” and therefore are presumptively open, the paper argued.
In its motion, Dow Jones also noted that the “potential involvement of both government officials (law enforcement agents) and the public health and welfare (a cigarette manufacturer) only increases the importance of the public scrutiny in this matter.”
The publisher argued that the standard for imposing a protective seal requires a finding of a compelling state interest necessitating secrecy. Furthermore, the sealing must be narrowly tailored to protect that interest, the publisher said. The newspaper asserted that the protective order could not be “narrowly tailored” where not even the identity of the parties are available the public. (In re Case Number CV-S-95-00155; Media Counsel: Donald Campbell, Las Vegas)