A fee dispute between the wealthy widow of sub-prime mortgage magnate Roland Arnall and her former tax attorney has gone to a civil jury trial in Los Angeles. That's not so unusual. But excluding the public and a reporter to keep financial details private? That's pretty unusual. From today's Daily Journal story by Ciaran McEvoy:
Conducting certain civil proceedings in private to ensure the safety of witnesses or certain proprietary business information is not unheard of, but legal experts said it was unusual for a judge to seal the entirety of a jury trial's testimony.
Court officials said privacy was behind the move.
"In order to protect the privacy of personal income tax information, the parties stipulated to close the courtroom proceedings and [Superior Court Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos] agreed to that oral stipulation," Carolyn B. Kuhl, supervising judge of Los Angeles County's civil courts, said in a statement. "Palazuelos is attempting to locate a minute order or a transcript that references her ruling in this regard."
Some First Amendment experts are crying foul.
"I have never heard of an entire civil trial being conducted secretly," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit that provides legal assistance to journalists. "It's absolutely outrageous."
City News Service reporter Bill Hetherman was ejected from the trial on January 11, after the opening statements.