Executive Director Message – November 2014

Photo via Shiyald on Flickr


By Paul Bland
Executive Director


2014 has been a busy year for Public Justice, and a very successful one. We continue fighting for the right of everyone to have his or her day in court. The last few weeks have brought great successes in our environmental work, our anti-bullying work, and our fight against forced arbitration, among other areas. But there is one area that I want to particularly draw attention to here: our revitalized and expanded Court Secrecy Project. We are fighting in a number of cutting-edge cases against outrageous efforts by corporations to try to hide crucial facts and evidence that have emerged in open court.

In one new case, for example, we are fighting court secrecy sought by Chrysler in a class action against it. The plaintiffs in the case claim that there’s a defect in the vehicles’ electrical systems. This defect can allegedly cause, among other things, the cars’ power shutting down at any rate of speed without warning. Unfortunately, records filed with the court during the parties’ dispute on whether Chrysler would be required to notify its customers of the potential danger have been removed from public view. On Oct. 23, we filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the Center for Auto Safety for the purpose of unsealing these records.

Similarly, we’re fighting against court secrecy in a crucial battle against payday lending. Fighting against payday lenders is nothing new to Public Justice, but this time, we’re not representing the plaintiffs in a case but rather a public interest firm interested in evidence that a payday lender is trying to keep secret. Just as we are co-counsel in several cases fighting payday lenders who are trying to avoid state law through phony claims of tribal immunity, the Federal Trade Commission has brought an action against payday lenders hiding behind this sham claim. Unfortunately, a trial court in Nevada has sealed an enormous amount of the evidence that the FTC has developed regarding the defendants’ lending and collection behavior. We have intervened in the FTC’s case on behalf of Americans for Financial Reform, to try to get these crucial documents into the public light.

Similarly, we have sought to intervene on behalf of the Center for Auto Safety and The Safety Institute in a case involves Trinity Industries, Inc. Trinity allegedly made secret modifications to a popular model of highway guardrails that transformed those guardrails into lethal spears. In response to our motion, the judge ruled that Trinity must show why records in the case should remain sealed from public view after the trial. The court did not permit us to intervene, however. We are currently appealing the decision blocking us from intervening, and if we win, we will be back in court to fight to unveil Trinity’s secrets.

For two decades, Public Justice has been exposing and preventing excessive secrecy in our nation’s courts, but now we are doing it on a larger and more energetic scale than ever. Too often, court records that should be public have been sealed simply because companies don’t want people to know what they’ve done. In some cases, these records hide dangers to public health and safety. Public Justice’s goal in revitalizing our court secrecy project is to overturn overly broad secrecy orders in a substantial number of cases, establish important new precedents and change the culture in which courts enter sealing orders without justification or even serious consideration.

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