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Reporters Committee urges court to release creditor's names in judge's bankruptcy case

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The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a friend-of-the-court brief Wednesday urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for…

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a friend-of-the-court brief Wednesday urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit to recognize the public’s right to the identities of creditors in the bankruptcy of a former Kansas City judge who borrowed money from lawyers to fund her gambling addiction. The Eighth Circuit encompasses Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

The Kansas City Star had asked the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Kansas City, Mo., to unseal a list of creditors that the debtor had asked the court to file under seal, but the court rejected its request, saying that publicizing the list would raise “a real risk that reasonable people will draw unfavorable conclusions about the ethical or moral character” of the creditors.

“If the bankruptcy court’s decision were to stand, judges would be entitled to special privileges when they file for bankruptcy not available to other citizens,” said Lucy A. Dalglish, Executive Director of the Reporters Committee. “That is an untenable situation.”

The U.S. District Court in Kansas City recognized that unsealing the list “might tend to harm an attorney’s reputation,” but bankruptcy courts cannot be expected to review all details extrinsic to a case to protect creditors from potential embarrassment.

In its brief, the Reporters Committee urged the Eighth Circuit to uphold the district court’s decision. “Attorneys’ feelings of shame or embarrassment do not trump the well-established principle of the public’s right to monitor the operations of its judiciary,” the brief argues. “Under Creditors’ reasoning, the more media interest there is in the facts underlying a debtor’s bankruptcy, the more secrecy to which the debtor is entitled. But increased public interest in a particular case is precisely why the proceedings should be open. The greater the public access, the more capable the public is to obtain facts through the press to hold their judiciary and public officials accountable.”

The brief is available at: www.rcfp.org/news/documents/20060608-amicusbrie.pdf