Public Justice Asks Montana Court to Unseal Long-Secret Case Documents About Dangerous Remington Rifle
Now that a federal judge has unsealed most of the court file in a 1991 lawsuit against Remington Rifle Company, a Montana father whose young son was killed by a malfunctioning Remington rifle is asking the court to open the remainder of the file to the public.
Public Justice filed a motion Thursday on behalf of Richard Barber, whose nine-year-old son, Gus, was killed in 2000 when the family’s Remington Model 700 rifle accidentally discharged without the trigger being pulled. Barber wants public access to all of the documents from Aleksich v. Remington, a lawsuit filed two decades ago after 13-year-old Brock Aleksich lifted the safety on his Model 700 and the gun went off, shooting Brock’s 14-year-old brother, Brent, in both legs.
The Aleksich case settled in 1995, and the entire record was sealed until last week, when Judge Richard Cebull ruled that there was “no reason for sealing the entire case” and made most of the documents available to the public for the first time. The ruling to unseal the court file was made shortly after the court, at Public Justice’s urging, allowed Barber to intervene into the sealed case in order to seek public access to the court filings.
In its order granting Barber permission to intervene, the court emphasized that the “public right to access court documents exists for cases decided a hundred years ago as surely as it does for lawsuits now,” and that Remington — which opposed Barber’s involvement — had failed to show how intervention would harm the company.
Barber first learned of the Aleksich case after his son’s death, and also discovered that the Model 700 had been responsible for scores of other injuries and deaths and thousands of documented customer complaints.
Among the now-unsealed documents is a brief detailing purported proof that high-level Remington employees not only knew about the defects that caused Gus Barber’s death and Brent Aleksich’s injuries, but that the company had known about them since before it started producing the Model 700 in the 1950s. Still, as recently as 2010, Remington told CNBC that its Model 700 rifles have been safe and “free of any defect” since they were first produced.
“We are thrilled that Judge Cebull revisited the protective orders in this case and found that there was no reason for continued secrecy,” said Public Justice’s Goldberg Attorney Amy Radon, co-lead counsel for Barber. “It is now our hope that Judge Cebull will take the final step of unsealing the remaining Aleksich court filings so that the public has access to the whole picture of what happened in this case.”
The remaining sealed records in Aleksich are believed to include evidence that Remington hid its knowledge of the defective trigger mechanism from the court, the Aleksich family, and the public for decades.
Rich Miller, the attorney who represented both the Aleksich family and Barber in their lawsuits against Remington, dedicated his career to exposing the truth about the Remington rifles. An active member of the Public Justice Foundation’s Board of Directors, Miller died in 2006.
Barber is now determined to honor Miller’s legacy and unveil the truth, case by case.
“There is no doubt in my mind that secrecy kills,” said Barber. “I want the public to finally see for itself the evidence that clearly establishes that Remington has continued selling this defective rifle for years even though it was well aware of the inherent risks to the public. Knowledge of the facts is the only way to break this cycle and finally permit people to take responsibility for their own personal safety and that of their friends and family.”
In addition to Radon, Public Justice’s legal team includes Staff Attorney Leslie Bailey, Public Justice Foundation Board of Directors Member Bill Rossbach of Missoula, Mont., and Richard Ramler of Belgrade, Mont.