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Media denied access to records gathered for Twins' lawsuit

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Media denied access to records gathered for Twins’ lawsuit

  • An appeals court held that pre-trial discovery information not filed with the court is not available as judicial records and that it also is not public under the Minnesota disclosure law.

April 28, 2003 — Documents produced during discovery in a lawsuit between the Minnesota Twins baseball team, Major League Baseball and the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission do not have to be made public, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled April 15.

The Star Tribune of Minneapolis, the Associated Press and KARE-TV sought access to 9,000 pages of financial documents given to the sports commission during the discovery phase of its lawsuit to keep the Twins in Minnesota. The commission is a public agency that operates the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, where the Twins play.

Before the Twins’ lawsuit was settled in June 2002, the media sued for access to the documents. They claimed that because the documents were in the commission’s possession, they were public under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. The media also argued that there was an overwhelming public interest in release of the documents because they involved public funding of a new baseball stadium.

In its unanimous decision, the Court of Appeals disagreed with the news organizations and ruled that the media did not have a right to see this material even though it was gathered during the discovery process.

The court also ruled that the media did not have access to the records under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

The court noted that under Minnesota law, government investigations that lead to litigation would be protected from disclosure so as not to put the state at a disadvantage by prematurely exposing litigation-related information. The media groups argued that because the case has been settled, the material in question could be released because it is now “inactive civil investigation data” in government hands that should be released under the data practices law.

The court disagreed, holding instead that the materials in question “never became inactive civil investigative data,” which would have made them subject to the open records law. Instead the documents were obtained by the government “through discovery after commencement of [the original] civil action,” thus precluding them from ever becoming government investigative work product.

The judge also found that the records were not judicial records available under the common law.

“The CD-ROM containing 9,000 imaged documents [sought by the media] was obtained by the commission from the Twins through the discovery process and was not filed with court,” wrote Judge Jill Flaskamp Halbrooks. “Because the CD-ROM is pretrial discovery that has not been filed with the court, the media have no common-law right to access.”

The media are considering an appeal to the State Supreme Court, according to an April 16 Star Tribune report.

(Star Tribune v. Minnesota Twins Partnership; Media counsel: John P. Borger, Faegre & Benson, Minneapolis) GS

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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