The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press today will file a friend-of-the-court brief with the Superior Court in Los Angeles in the lawsuit between Stacey Stillman, a contestant on Survivor, and Survivor Entertainment Group, Inc. [“SEG”], the producer of the show.
Stillman has alleged that Survivor is a game show subject to a federal law that prohibits the “fixing” of a game show and that the producers violated those federal laws during the production of the show. SEG contends that Stillman violated her confidentiality agreement with SEG and libeled the producers.
Stillman deposed Dirk Been, also a former contestant on Survivor. Been asked that his deposition be kept confidential. However, both Stillman and SEG have cited to the Been deposition in arguing their case to the court.
Been has filed a motion for a protective order, asking the court to seal his testimony, even if it is used as substantive evidence in this case. Peter Lance, an investigative reporter, has filed a motion to “unseal” the deposition.
The Reporters Committee brief, which was joined by The California First Amendment Coalition, asks the trial court to unseal the deposition and allow the public to see the transcript. The brief argues that the deposition transcript is a public record because it was filed with the court and used as evidence by the parties. The brief also argues that under a new California law, documents can be sealed only if strict requirements are met, and those requirements have not been met in this case.
The new law, effective since January 1, 2001, was passed after the California Supreme Court decision in NBC Subsidiary, Inc. v. Superior Court, a civil lawsuit between two celebrities, Clint Eastwood and Sondra Locke. The Stillman lawsuit is particularly important because it is one of the first cases to interpret the new rule.
Been, who is pursuing a career in the entertainment industry, has argued that he wants his deposition kept secret to prevent “professional embarrassment.” However, the Reporters Committee brief notes that courts have ruled that possible embarrassment or injury to reputation is not a sufficient justification to seal a court record.
“This country’s civil courts are not a private dispute resolution system,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee. “The public has an interest. in all civil cases, in observing and assessing the performance of its public judicial system. They cannot do that if evidence filed with ordinary court pleadings is routinely sealed.”
The Reporters Committee does not take a position, nor does it intend to lend support to either party, with regard to the substantive merits of the case.
The Reporters Committee is a nonprofit organization legal defense organization for journalists that also counsels on First Amendment and Freedom of Information issues.