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Judge seals documents in 'Fighting Sioux' nickname lawsuit

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Sep. 24, 2007  ·   A judge last week sealed all future documents in a lawsuit challenging an NCAA ban…

Sep. 24, 2007  ·   A judge last week sealed all future documents in a lawsuit challenging an NCAA ban on the University of North Dakota’s “Fighting Sioux” nickname, noting that he did so to encourage settlement talks between the parties.

“Both parties have continued good faith negotiations with an eye toward settling the issues of this litigation amicably,” Northeast Central District Judge Lawrence Jahnke stated in his order. “At such time as it appears to the court that settlement negotiations have reached an impasse and trial will be necessary, this order will be immediately rescinded.”

The NCAA contends that the nickname and Indian head logo demean American Indians and has prohibited the university from using either during NCAA postseason tournaments. The university has defended its use of the nickname and logo and filed suit against the NCAA. The trial is scheduled to get under way on Dec. 10.

While the judge notes in his order that the NCAA agreed with his decision to seal future documents, state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, whose office is representing the university, said he disagreed with the order.

“The judge nonetheless felt, in the interest of further possible settlement discussions, he would seal the record and we, of course, will comply,” Stenehjem said in a statement.

Jack McDonald, a media attorney in Bismarck, N.D., decried the ruling as overly broad and in conflict with the state Supreme Court’s Administrative Rule 41, Section 6.

“These rules were designed to make the guidelines for sealing court records similar to those for closing court rooms,” he said. “I could understand choosing to seal some documents that may contain certain confidential information, but the blanket sealing for no particular reason seems out of place.”

McDonald noted that there has been “considerable discussion” about contesting the order.

“The media attorneys are reviewing the situation and will probably decide in the next week or so if we’re going to challenge the ruling,” he said.

Jennifer Koons

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