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Michelin Should Not Be Permitted to Seal Courtroom and Documents for 15-Passenger Van Trial, Consumer Groups Tell Court

Oct. 18, 2002

Michelin Should Not Be Permitted to Seal Courtroom and Documents for 15-Passenger Van Trial, Consumer Groups Tell Court

Public Citizen and Center for Auto Safety Seek to Prevent Secrecy in Texas Trial Set to Start Monday

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Michelin North America should not be permitted to effectively close the courtroom and seal documents during an upcoming trial involving a 15-passenger van, Public Citizen and the Center for Auto Safety are telling a Texas court today.

In a brief being filed with the District Court of Wichita County, 78th Judicial District, the groups seek to intervene in response to Michelin’s request to block public access to the trial. The company is seeking to close the courtroom during certain portions of the trial, prohibit jurors from taking notes and seal a variety of documents. The practical effect is to exclude the public from a trial that has garnered national attention. This is the first case to proceed to trial that involves both the safety of 15-passenger vans and of tires as well. It stems from a 2001 crash that killed four and injured seven who were on a church outing when a tire blew out.

“It’s appalling that Michelin would try to block the public from any courtroom proceeding,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “But it is particularly audacious given that this trial may have a tremendous effect on the lives of other citizens who use these tires and ride in 15-passenger vans. The public has a compelling right to have access to consumer product information that helps prevent injury and death.”

The public’s right to have access to judicial proceedings has been established for more than a century, and the public has a right to be in the courtroom for all proceedings in the trial of a case, the consumer groups said. Further, the First Amendment limits a court’s discretion to seal documents in civil cases. To justify sealing a trial record, the potential harm of disclosure must be substantial, the sealing order must be extremely limited, and there must be no other way to protect the interest of confidentiality other than by limiting public access. Michelin doesn’t meet that test, the groups said.

The groups are being represented by attorney C. Tab Turner of Little Rock, Ark., Jerry M. White of Dallas and Bonnie Robin-Vergeer of Public Citizen. To view the brief, click here.