Judge rules St. Luke's trial can stay partly closed to public, with some oversight

Media organizations lose in an attempt to open all testimony and transcripts.

adutton@idahostatesman.comOctober 8, 2013 

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled Tuesday that some testimony and documents may remain hidden from the public in the St. Luke’s Health System trial. Attorneys must show a “compelling” reason for hiding that information, he said.

Lewiston lawyer Charles Brown argued on behalf of the Idaho Statesman and other news groups that Winmill should allow public and media access to everything presented in the case. The other organizations were The Associated Press, the Times-News in Twin Falls, the Idaho Press-Tribune in Nampa, the Lewiston Tribune, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News and the Idaho Press Club.

Every party to the lawsuit opposed the news organizations’ request.

“I agree with Mr. Brown, this is a (trial) of great interest to the public,” Winmill said. “The problem in this case is also very unique.”

Businesses have a right to request the protection of trade secrets that could be revealed during the trial, harming them, the judge said.

“We can’t, I think, (protect trade secrets) with a broad axe. We can't do it with a scalpel,” he said. He characterized his Tuesday order as “something in between.”

Winmill ruled the week before the trial began in late September that businesses involved in the case could designate documents and witness statements for “attorneys’ eyes only,” making them closed to the public and to some employees of the businesses. He acknowledged the public’s well-established right to an open trial but said businesses should be allowed to safeguard trade secrets.

As a result, more than half of the first two weeks of the four-week trial was closed.

Winmill ordered lawyers for the businesses, the Federal Trade Commission and the Idaho attorney general to file affidavits over the next week explaining why each sealed document and witness statement should be closed to the public.

Winmill also said he will review the documents and testimony to make sure businesses are not misusing their trade secret status. He offered Brown the ability to review the documents as long as he does not disclose their contents to the news organizations, but Brown said the judge has the responsibility to be the “gatekeeper” of the public’s right to know.

The parties in the lawsuit, as well as third parties — Blue Cross of Idaho, Regence BlueShield of Idaho, Micron Technology and Primary Health Medical Group — have had the ability to make the closed-court and sealed-document designations during the trial.

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