During the antitrust trial last fall pitting Saint Alphonsus Health Systems against St. Luke's Health System over its acquisition of the Saltzer Medical Group, far too much of the testimony and evidence was withheld from the public and categorized as AEO - for Attorney Eyes Only. Attorneys themselves were making decisions about what should be redacted.
On behalf of the public, which naturally has a huge stake in court proceedings involving the region's two largest health care systems, the press called foul. In October, the Idaho Statesman joined The Associated Press, the Idaho Press-Tribune, the (Twin Falls) Times-News and the Idaho Press Club as "intervenors" and filed a motion asking the court to provide "immediate access to the remaining trial proceedings, for unredacted access to past trial transcripts, for unredacted videotape depositions and exhibits as used at trial."
On Monday, the attorney representing the press, Charles A. Brown in Lewiston, got word that a majority of the testimony withheld will be made public over the coming weeks.
At the urging of the 9th Circuit, Judge B. Lynn Winmill reviewed all of the exhibits and transcripts and, through the lens of the "compelling reasons" test (Kamakana v. City and County of Honolulu), ruled that the majority will be made public after all.
This is good news for Idaho, for the Treasure Valley and for transparency in court proceedings.
The court (Winmill) stated:
"In large part, the Court cannot find compelling reasons to justify maintaining the sealed status for most of the courtroom testimony now under seal."
In the order, Judge Winmill then put the item-by-item redacted material to the test. Only the most private of matters - examples include the salaries of certain physicians and truly sensitive business negotiations - will remain sealed.
We and our partners in the motion never expected all documents to be open to the public's view, but we did expect a level of transparency beyond that which the attorneys on both sides - who had different motives than the public - might have deemed exclusive.
Entire days and weeks of testimony had been judged off-limits in the case, in which Winmill ultimately decided against the St. Luke's acquisition.
We are reminded of what Winmill said in a pretrial reference quoting Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: "The trial of causes should take place under the public eye ... because it is of the highest moment that those who administer justice should always act under the sense of public responsibility, and that every citizen should be able to satisfy himself with his own eyes as to the mode in which a public duty is performed."
It looks to us that the evidence in this case, which could be revealing and even embarrassing for some institutions, will finally rise to that expectation.
Going forward, be assured the Statesman will do its duty to intervene on behalf of the public and apply scrutiny in cases where a judge and the lawyers from both sides determine for the public what the public has a right to know in the midst of a "public" trial.
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