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News service asks to join suit to uncover sealed tire files

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    NMU         INDIANA         Secret Courts         Dec 7, 2000    

News service asks to join suit to uncover sealed tire files

  • In a mammoth case in federal district court, the Bloomberg News service seeks access to discovery documents that may explain if Bridgestone/Firestone tires are to blame for more than 100 deaths.

Attorneys representing the Bloomberg News service asked a federal district court in Indianapolis to allow it to join a multi-district lawsuit against the Bridgestone/Firestone tire company in order to gain access to a voluminous amount of documents it claims belong in the public domain.

In a Dec. 5 motion to intervene and unseal documents, Bloomberg News told the federal district court that a reporter learned of a warehouse of discovery materials where Bridgestone/Firestone requires entrants to pledge confidentiality before viewing any documents.

Bloomberg News requested access to all the material exchanged between the plaintiffs in numerous person injury and class action lawsuits and the tire company. At least 175 cases have been consolidated before Judge Sarah Evans Barker in Indianapolis. The number of plaintiffs could grow as attorneys in other states file lawsuits on behalf of owners of certain models of tires. The cases are in the pre-trial stage, and Barker on Nov. 22 allowed limited discovery to resume in the personal injury cases by partially lifting a stay order. Barker has not approved a protective order in any of the cases before her.

With the potential for plaintiffs to number in the thousands, Bloomberg News noted that there is an overwhelming public interest in the details of the case, which alleges faulty design and manufacturing of automobile tires that might have resulted in more than 100 deaths worldwide and a greater number of injuries.

In support of access, Bloomberg News argued a presumptive right exists because open access to court documents promotes respect and understanding of the legal process, and provides more accurate fact finding. Additionally, judges are officials ultimately accountable to the public. One way to achieve this objective, according to Bloomberg, is through the eyes and ears of the press.

Bloomberg News also claimed continuing with the status quo validates an unprecedented, privately arranged secrecy agreement between the litigants. The authority to seal a document falls only to the court, the motion argued, not the self-interested parties.

On a procedural note, Bloomberg News argued that when a party asks the court to seal any records they must specify a particularized need for confidentiality. The court should limit these circumstances, which include, for example, matters of corporate trade secrets, personal privacy interests or military security. However, when balanced against the right of access, Bloomberg News noted, the court should not order confidentiality simply because the materials may fall within one of the enumerated categories. The court should narrowly tailor an order to seal documents, and opt for a partially redacted item rather than a complete embargo.

(In re Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., ATX, ATX II and Wilderness Tires Products Liability Litigation; Media Counsel: Richard Klein, Thomas Golden, Charles Glasser, Jr., Willkie Farr & Gallagher, New York) SM

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