In late June, a federal judge in Little Rock vacated a broad confidentiality order covering pretrial documents in Paula Jones’ sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton.
Federal District Judge Susan Webber Wright unsealed the record with the exception of videotaped depositions and the identities of “any Jane Does” whose names appear in court documents. The decision also permits parties to make public statements, which were forbidden under the confidentiality order. Wright noted that no trial is imminent and that much of the record had already been made public.
Wright issued the decision after a federal appeals panel in St. Louis (8th Cir.) directed her to reconsider the need for confidentiality in light of the dismissal of Jones’ lawsuit.
The parties argued that the confidentiality order should remain in place because Jones’ appeal of the dismissal of her case is pending, and therefore their fair trial rights are still at issue. The media argued that much of the record had already been made public and that the compelling public interest in the case outweighed any privacy interests.
Wright imposed the confidentiality order last October because of what she called “intense and often inaccurate media coverage” of the case. Wright said that secrecy was necessary to ensure the empaneling of a fair and impartial jury and to protect the privacy of third-party witnesses.
Numerous media organizations, including The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, asked Wright to vacate the order and appealed when she declined to do so. Wright dismissed Jones’ lawsuit in April, after the media groups filed a notice of appeal but before the appeals court ruled on the matter. (Jones v. Clinton; Media Counsel: Robert Hoemeke, St. Louis)