In 2007 State Farm sued Attorney General Jim Hood. Here is the Complaint. State Farm does not like Jim Hood. No one likes State Farm. When State Farm filed the lawsuit, it filed this motion to seal the case. The Court later unsealed the case.
In 2008 Sate Farm and Hood settled and the Court dismissed the case. Here is the order. The terms of the settlement agreement were confidential and the court ordered that they remain under seal.
In 2009 Ya’ll Politics, joined by three television stations, moved to intervene in the case in order to obtain the terms of the settlement agreement. State Farm did not object. General Hood did. Here is Hood’s Response to the Motion to Unseal the agreement.
Hood’s response states several times that the Court ordered that the settlement agreement be sealed upon a showing of good cause. I have looked for something in the record confirming that statement, but have not found it. Maybe I just missed it.
It seems that Hood views the terms of the settlement agreement as politically embarrassing. But open access to court proceedings should take precedent over politics.
It is bad form and bad law for court files to be sealed without an evidentiary basis for a finding of good cause in the record. An example is Judge Yerger’s unexplained sealing of all relevant pleadings in the Eaton v. Frisby case pending in Hinds County. In the good old days newspapers viewed themselves as the guardians of public access to the courts and challenged improper sealing of court files and court proceedings. Now, newspapers can’t afford to pay the lawyers to make the challenges.
I would like to see Judge Bramlette grant the motion for two reasons. First, it would reverse the trend of unexplained sealing of court files and confidentiality orders not supported with evidence. Second, it would start a trend of new media (a blog) successfully challenging secrecy in the courts.