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Judge unseals Exxon opinion

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  1. Court Access
A federal trial court judge in Washington, D.C. unsealed a previous ruling in a civil lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Oil…

A federal trial court judge in Washington, D.C. unsealed a previous ruling in a civil lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Oil Indonesia. In the suit, 11 Indonesian villagers allege that the oil giant continued to arm soldiers guarding their facilities even though it knew that the soldiers tortured and killed villagers in 2000.

Exxon had previously moved to dismiss the suit for lack of personal jurisdiction. When that motion was denied, Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer gave the parties the opportunity to move to seal the memorandum accompanying that order. Exxon argued that portions of the memorandum that referenced documents already under seal should have been edited out of the document.

Oberdorfer, applying a six-part balancing test, found that Exxon could not overcome the “strong presumption in favor of public access” to judicial records and documents.

The judge noted that references in the memorandum did not concern the specific risks that led him to seal the documents in the first place and did not concern the types of information usually subject to seal such as trade secrets, the privacy and reputation of victims of crimes, or risks to national security interests.