Judge unseals document in Verett's Pizza Hut injury case

Steve Korris Nov. 3, 2009, 7:26am



Judges create mystery when they seal documents, and now Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth creates a mystery by unsealing a document.

A brief he unsealed on Oct. 23 contains no secrets, slanders or shocks, leaving readers to wonder why anyone concealed it in the first place.

Retired Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron sealed it last year at the request of Edwardsville lawyer Thomas Maag and client Amanda Verett, herself a lawyer.

Verett sued Pizza Hut and Troy policeman Clarence Jackson in 2007, claiming she suffered injuries due to a faulty restaurant door or Jackson's brutality or both.

Pizza Hut moved for summary judgment, and in response Maag objected and moved to prohibit Jackson from denying liability.

Maag asked Byron to seal the response, and Byron complied.

Illinois law provides no authority for sealing documents in civil litigation.

Seals turn public business private, and outsiders can only guess who they protect.

Byron's seal on Verett's brief served no apparent purpose except to cloak Maag's argument.

In the unsealed response, Maag argued that an order excusing Pizza Hut would automatically prohibit Jackson from denying that he hurt Verett.

Likewise, he reasoned, an order in Jackson's favor would prove Pizza Hut hurt her.

He wrote, "The fact that no one else had yet been hurt on this door system is irrelevant, as even in the confine of dog bites, which under the common law allowed 'one free bite,' the 'one free bite' rule has been abolished."

He limited his brief to four pages and attached an affidavit from Verett swearing that since her accident she had examined several doors with hydraulic hinges.

"Most, if not all, of those hydraulic hinges that are working, caused the door to open or close slowly, even if force is applied to them," she wrote.

Byron's seal covered something else Maag might have preferred to hide, a transcript of questions he asked Jackson about the call that sent him to Pizza Hut.

Maag asked, "Were you enforcing a law?"

Jackson said, "I was a peace keeper."

Maag asked, "What law is that enforcing?"

Jackson said, "Trying to keep the peace."

Maag asked again, and Jackson answered again.

Maag said, "Give me a statute citation that you were enforcing."

Jackson said he didn't know the statute.

As Ruth unsealed the documents, he signed a separate order canceling a trial that would have started on Nov. 16.

He set a case management conference for Nov. 25.

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