Judge sets Tuesday hearing for news orgs' effort to open courtroom to public

adutton@idahostatesman.comOctober 3, 2013 

A federal judge will hear arguments Tuesday afternoon from news organizations seeking to open the courtroom to the public during a trial between Idaho's two largest health-care systems.

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill is midway through the trial, in which Saint Alphonsus Health System, Treasure Valley Hospital, the Federal Trade Commission and the Idaho Attorney General accuse St. Luke's Health System and Nampa-based Saltzer Medical Group of breaking antitrust laws when they merged last year.

Before the trial began, Winmill ruled that certain portions of witness testimony and certain evidence could be ruled "attorneys' eyes only," hidden from public view and the view of competitors, to protect trade secrets. He ordered attorneys to quickly release redacted transcripts of that testimony to the public.

Charles Brown, the attorney for the news organizations, argues that the public deserves access to the trial because the public is affected by the outcome of the case.

"The parties in this lawsuit are using the umbrella of sensitive trade secrets, negotiating strategies, bargaining power evaluations, reimbursement policies, pricing and future plans to avoid revealing what they don’t want to be revealed. Where does the interest of the medical consumer enter into this equation?" Brown wrote.

The courtroom was totally closed to the public for about half of the first eight days of the trial. During the other half, the courtroom was open but significant portions of video testimony and pieces of evidence were not shown to the public.

In some cases, attorneys for other businesses — mainly health insurers — have marked parts of the trial confidential.

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