The case of the empty secret

The Madison County Record Nov. 8, 2009, 8:19am

The doorbell rings and there's the delivery guy with a pizza box in his hands. You quickly pay and carry it lovingly to the table, your mouth watering.

Then you open the box and your stomach flips. There's nothing inside. No crusty crumbs, no melted cheese, no tomato sauce – not a single piece of pepperoni or sausage. Not even a stray olive or anchovy.

When you open a pizza box, you expect to find something sensational inside. Finding nothing makes you feel cheated and betrayed. Disappointment is profound.

It's not unlike opening a sealed court document anticipating a feast of juicy, secret information and finding nothing.

That's what happened on October 23rd when Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth unsealed a document relating to Edwardsville lawyer Thomas Maag's infamous Pizza Hut suit.

Retired Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron had sealed it last year at the request of Maag and his client, attorney Amanda Verett. Verett had sued Pizza Hut and Troy policeman Clarence Jackson in 2007, claiming she suffered injuries due to a faulty restaurant door and/or Jackson's door holding abuse.

Pizza Hut had moved for summary judgment. Maag then objected and asked for his response to be sealed--for no apparent reason, judging from the unsealed document.

The document contained Maag's four-page brief, an affidavit from Verett regarding her personal research into the mechanics of doors with hydraulic hinges, and a transcript of Maag's examination of Jackson.

No secrets, no nothing--an empty box, figuratively speaking.

Which raises three questions: Why did Maag seek to have this innocuous material sealed, why did Judge Byron agree, and what other documents might Byron have sealed for no apparent reason during his tenure on the bench?

Until we know answers to those questions, we can't help feeling cheated and abused by officials using public courts for wrongfully-private actions that serve only to discredit the justice system.

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