NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · EIGHTH CIRCUIT · Secret Courts · Sep. 22, 2006
Names of lawyers who lent money to judge released
Sep. 22, 2006 · A bankruptcy court on Tuesday released the names of 10 lawyers who lent money to a former Kansas City, Mo., municipal judge, three weeks after a federal appeals court ruled the bankruptcy judge erred in sealing the documents.
For nearly a year, The Kansas City Star sought to obtain the list, which U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jerry Venters sealed at Kansas City Municipal Judge Deborah Neal’s request during Neal’s bankruptcy trial. Neal, who has acknowledged having a gambling problem, submitted the list of creditors when she filed for bankruptcy relief last year.
Venters granted the request by citing a bankruptcy provision authorizing the sealing of “defamatory” or “scandalous” matter. The U.S. District Court in Kansas City ordered the names released, arguing that the provision does not apply to a list of creditor names.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis (8th Cir.) upheld the lower court’s decision on Aug. 29, stating the list was not “scandalous” under the law.
“The creditors list is just that — a list of persons or entities to whom Neal owes money,” Judge Lavenski R. Smith wrote for the three-judge panel. “Potential scandal only surfaces when one looks ‘outside the lines’ of the bankruptcy proceeding, looks outside the context of this bankruptcy filing, and speculates as to motives of the creditor and the debtor.”
According to the Star, the list of lawyers who lent to Neal includes a former county legislator and two former presidents of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association. The loans range from $400 to $5,000. Neal is serving a 28-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to mail fraud in May 2005.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a motion in the case in June asking to file a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Star, but the motion was denied.
(Neal v. The Kansas City Star; Media Counsel: Jon Haden, Lathrop & Gage L.C., Kansas City, Mo.) — CS