St. Luke's trial judge ordered to review sealed documents

An appeals court sets a 120-day deadline to determine the fate of sealed materials.

adutton@idahostatesman.comApril 10, 2014 

Judges for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals have ordered U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill to review all documents and testimony that were sealed from the public during a lengthy hospital antitrust trial in Boise.

"Numerous affidavits have been submitted in response to the Oct. 18, 2013, order," the court wrote in its decision Tuesday. "However, to date, (Winmill) has not made a final determination of whether compelling reasons continue to exist for maintaining the testimony and exhibits under seal."

Before the trial over the St. Luke's Health System buyout of Nampa's Saltzer Medical Group, Winmill ordered each day's testimony to be transcribed and made public. He said lawyers for the parties involved in the lawsuit could redact portions of testimony and exhibits that would reveal trade secrets.

He granted the same powers to employers and insurance companies that weren't suing or being sued. Those businesses argue that they handed over sensitive business information under the expectation that it would not leave the court.

Several Idaho news organizations, including the Idaho Statesman, filed a motion to challenge Winmill's handling of the trial. They argued that Winmill gave attorneys - and, in some cases, company executives - permission to decide which pieces of evidence and which parts of witness statements would reveal trade secrets.

The news organizations said Winmill was overly generous with the lawyers and businesses, giving too much leeway in closing the courtroom and shielding documents.

Winmill denied the organizations' request to pry open all proceedings and exhibits. But he agreed in part with the news organizations, ordering lawyers involved in the trial to file sworn statements justifying their decisions. He said he would determine whether there were "compelling reasons" to keep the statements and exhibits under seal.

The news organizations later filed a motion to the appeals court, saying Winmill failed to follow through on his order.

Instead of ruling on that claim by the media, the appeals court kicked the order back to Winmill. He must examine the sealed documents and determine whether they meet the legal standard for trade secret protections.

If Winmill fails to meet that deadline, the news organizations can refile their request to the appeals court.

Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, Twitter: @IDS_Audrey

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