Parties Failed to Provide a Legitimate Reason for Keeping Public Court Records Under Seal
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A company in which Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney is a principal investor will no longer be allowed to conceal court records concerning a 2007 land deal gone wrong, a South Carolina court ruled late yesterday in an order unsealing the records.
In his order, Circuit Judge Brian M. Gibbons said that, after reflection and consideration of the balancing factors that support South Carolina law, he found no need to continue the “drastic remedy” of keeping the records under seal. The court reversed its previous order and unsealed the records – a victory for public access to court records.
Reporters can read the specifics of the case here. (Once there, click on the “Lancaster County” on the map or in the list to the right, then do a search under last name field for “Fonville” as a party. Click on the case then choose the “actions” tab to see).
Public Citizen filed a motion in late February in the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas asking the court to unsealed papers filed in litigation relating to a failed 2007 real estate deal in Indian Land, S.C. That transaction involved more than $6 million in bank and investor loans.
Mulvaney’s company sued to foreclose on a piece of property in which he had jointly invested with other private investors. The deal was facilitated by two limited liability companies in which Mulvaney was a part owner. To keep the factual details of the case from the public, the parties to the lawsuit asked the judge to keep sealed some of the briefs and the evidence so they would be inaccessible to the public. The judge agreed to do so.
However, South Carolina has established rules for placing legal filings, settlements and documents under seal. The South Carolina Constitution provides that all courts of the state shall be public. In its motion to unseal, Public Citizen argued that there were no grounds for hiding the court records from the public.
“Courts always must balance the right of public access to court records with the need for some parties to protect truly private or proprietary information,” said Paul Levy, attorney for Public Citizen. “But this case turned the right of South Carolina citizens to access public court records on its ear. There was no legitimate reason to keep these court records should be hidden from the public eye.”
Read the specifics of the case.
Read the judge’s ruling.
Read Public Citizen’s motion to unseal.