Gilbert orders documents unsealed in federal class action over atrazine

Steve Korris Apr. 22, 2011, 2:39am


BENTON – U.S. District Judge Phil Gilbert plans to start unsealing documents that Syngenta Crop Protection filed as confidential in litigation over weed killer atrazine.

On April 19, he ordered Syngenta to address each sealed document individually and justify maintaining it under seal.

"If the defendants fail to respond or fail to carry their burden of justifying suppression of a document, the Court may unseal it without further notice or opportunity to be heard," he wrote.

"It is clear that some of the materials filed under seal should not be," he wrote.

He bristled when he found a media release under seal.

"The notion that a notice designed to reach the public is worthy of protection is hogwash," he wrote.

Syngenta faces claims in Gilbert's court for past and future costs of removing atrazine from water supplies.

Stephen Tillery of St. Louis sued Syngenta last year, on behalf of cities and private suppliers throughout the Midwest.

According to Gilbert, neither Syngenta nor Tillery understood a confidentiality order that Magistrate Judge Philip Frazier signed.

"The order was designed to facilitate the exchange of information during the non-public discovery phase of litigation, not to limit what can be filed in the public record," Gilbert wrote.

He wrote that items filed under seal must be accompanied by separate motion showing good cause, and that sealed status must be justified in 14 days.

"Neither party has complied with these directives," he wrote.

"The secrecy the parties chose to maintain among themselves is one matter; the secrecy they would like to impose upon public court records is another," he wrote.

He wrote that "materials on which a judicial decision rests are presumptively in the public domain."

"There is a common law right of access to documents filed in litigation," he wrote.

"In addition to this common law right of access to court documents, there is a
constitutional right of access to court records."

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