Case Number: 19-23649 (RDD)
Court: U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York
Clients: Dow Jones & Company, Inc., Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC, and Reuters News & Media, Inc.
Motion to Intervene and Unseal Filed: Nov. 23, 2020
Background: In September 2019, Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, filed for bankruptcy, part of an effort to settle 2,600 federal and state lawsuits stemming from the company’s role in the opioid crisis.
The U.S. Justice Department announced a year later that it had resolved all civil and criminal claims against Purdue, as well as a civil settlement with the company’s owners, the Sackler family, subject to the approval of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.
As part of Purdue’s bankruptcy proceedings, the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors of Purdue Pharma is investigating whether the company improperly hid assets so that they couldn’t be accessed in litigation. The UCC has filed motions seeking the production of hundreds of thousands of pages of documents the company and the Sacklers have withheld in discovery, but those motions have been heavily redacted. Other records in the bankruptcy proceeding, including sworn statements that attorneys have filed with the court, have been sealed entirely.
On Nov. 23, 2020, Dow Jones, the Boston Globe and Reuters sought to intervene in the proceedings to urge the federal court to unseal judicial records. On the news organizations’ behalf, Reporters Committee attorneys argue that the sealed and redacted judicial documents filed in the case are subject to the strong presumption of public access under the bankruptcy code and the First Amendment.
Quote: “Transparency is essential to ensuring the integrity of judicial proceedings, particularly in a case of such intense public interest,” said Katie Townsend, legal director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “We urge the court to provide the press and public access to these sealed and redacted records. The public has both a statutory and constitutional right to access this information, and the parties in the case have not offered any justification sufficient to keep it secret.”
Update: Pursuant to a stipulation, the parties began publicly filing materials that had previously been filed under seal in the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy proceedings in December 2020. The newly unsealed materials include hundreds of emails and other corporate documents. As Reuters reported on Dec. 21, the unsealed records show that members of the Sackler family discussed their potential exposure to lawsuits stemming from the company’s role in the opioid crisis as far back as 2007. Among the unsealed documents, according to the Wall Street Journal, is a 2007 memo from an adviser to one of the company’s owners suggesting that Purdue Pharma’s assets may be most protected overseas. Additional materials were publicly filed in January. As of Jan. 14, 2021, a total of approximately 13,500 pages of records have been unsealed with limited redactions, including 14 briefs and 543 exhibits.
2020-11-23: Motion to intervene and unseal judicial records