Sunshine in My Congress, Makes Me Worry

It comes across as a little arcane, but a judge’s authority with respect to protective orders and settlement agreements in civil litigation is a big deal for business.

The House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, on Thursday holds a hearing on H.R. 1508, the Sunshine in Litigation Act of 2009. (Details of the hearing.) There’s a Senate version of the bill, too, S. 537, introduced by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI).

Barry Bauman and Tim Doescher of Lawyers For Civil Justice wrote about the Senate bill in the Metropolitan Corporate Counsel last month, “Anti-Protective Orders Legislation Poses Threat To All Corporations”: “This dangerous legislation… would restrict judges from issuing protective orders and sealing settlement agreements. If enacted, it would undermine the courts’ present authority, which now enables them to protect privacy and property rights by ensuring that information, such as trade secrets and medical records, are kept confidential.”

More also from William A. Ruskin of Epstein, Becker & Green, writing at the Toxic Tort Litigation Blog, “When A Little Sunshine May Cause A Burn.” Ruskin notes the ABA opposes the legislation because the “proposed law would make discovery more burdensome, more expensive, and more time-consuming, and would threaten important privacy interests.”

Not surprisingly, the American Association for Justice — the trial lawyers — favors the legislation that would force gratuitous disclosure of business information contrary to a judge’s determination of what’s best for all parties. Anything that allows them to turn the screws.

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