Hawaii’s federal court has the somewhat dubious distinction of being a national leader in the percentage of cases which are settled with settlement agreements that are sealed and not available for public inspection, according to a 2004 study by the Federal Judicial Center.
Although sealed settlements are relatively uncommon, they occur more in Hawaii courts than in other jurisdictions.
We examined 288,846 civil cases that were filed in a sample of 52 districts. We found 1,270 cases with sealed settlement agreements (0.44%). That is one in approximately 227 cases.
The sealed settlement rate for individual districts ranges from considerably less than the national rate to considerably more than that rate. Figure 1 shows sealed settlement rates for individual districts. Three districts (6%) had no sealed settlement agreements—Indiana Northern, Iowa Southern, and South Dakota. Three districts (6%) had sealed settlement rates more than twice the national rate—Pennsylvania Eastern (0.94%), Hawaii (2.2%), and Puerto Rico (3.3%).
The report makes clear that there is a presumption of open access to court records.
Accountability is a principal reason for public access. Joy v. North, 692 F.2d 880, 893 (2d Cir. 1982) (“An adjudication is a formal act of government, the basis of which should, absent exceptional circumstances, be subject to public scrutiny.”); Jessup v. Luther, 277 F.3d 926, 928 (7th Cir. 2002) (“the public cannot monitor judicial performance adequately if the records of judicial proceedings are secret”); id. at 929 (“The public has an interest in knowing what terms of settlement a federal judge would approve and perhaps therefore nudge the parties to agree to.”); Union Oil Co. of California v. Leavell, 220 F.3d 562, 568 (7th Cir. 2000) (“The political branches of government claim legitimacy by election, judges by reason. Any step that withdraws an element of the judicial process from public view makes the ensuing decision look more like fiat, which requires compelling justification.”).
Settlement agreements are often filed in court because it makes it easier if subsequent action is necessary to enforce the settlement. But terms of a settlement also reflect the underlying dispute, which can be both unflattering to the losing party and of public interest.
A list of Hawaii cases where settlement agreements were sealed can be found on pages C-36 to C-39 of the report. The list of cases with sealed settlements includes the civil lawsuit that led to the successful sale of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and sportscaster Bob Hogue’s age and race discrimination suit against Emmis Television.
It all makes for interesting reading.
And here’s a business story we might recognize.
A small telecommunications company buys rural landlines from Verizon. Its computer systems fail, causing major headaches for customers, many of whom switch carriers. The company charges toward bankruptcy.
But this news story is from the Concord Monitor in Concord, New Hampshire. It draws parallels between the experience of Hawaiian Telcom and Fairpoint Communications, which took over land lines from Verizon in that part of the country.
Brackett and others with the union point the finger at Verizon, which they said dumped the networks on companies incapable of maintaining and improving them. Bob Erickson, a union representative for telecommunications, said customers relied on service from Verizon, a regulated utility, for years. Verizon collected steady rates, and “now they want to desert them,” he said.
Also on my list–I found another blogger working through the issue of dementia. Check out Dementia Nights.
On the journalism front, here’s an interesting summary of so-called “micropayments“, which have been getting more attention as everyone searches for an answer to how to squeeze revenue for content producers out of the Internet.
So it goes on this somewhat soggy Friday.