Senator says defendants hide public hazards with sealed court orders
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) – A key lawmaker pushed Wednesday for a bill barring judges from sealing terms of settlements or orders that would alert Nevadans to public hazards.
”It seems this is one of the most insidious things that the courts participate in,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Mark James said in describing secret settlements that SB441 would prohibit.
James, an attorney, said public welfare outweighs the court’s service to individual litigants in cases involving potential hazards.
Kent Lauer, executive director of the Nevada Press Organization, said last summer’s Firestone Tire case shows why SB441 is needed. He said for years Firestone settled cases through private litigation, utilizing confidentiality clauses to keep away the media.
”Don’t members of the public have a right to know about something that could harm or kill them?” Lauer asked.
SB441 also prohibits the state labor commissioner from entering into a confidential compromise or settlement in cases involving labor law violations.
D. Taylor of the Nevada Culinary Union said such ”hush-hush” deals encourage abusive employers to continue breaking labor laws.
James Sala of the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters said bad contractors sometimes underbid law-abiding contractors by using illegal cost-cutting practices.
Sala gave as an example a Las Vegas contractor who took kickbacks from Latino workers of $200 to $250 a week after paying them the state-mandated wage. When sued, the contractor would settle cases – providing employees wouldn’t talk to anyone about the lawsuit.
State Labor Commissioner Terry Johnson said he doesn’t oppose the bill – and thinks it should also apply to other government agencies. He said state laws give many other regulatory agencies confidentiality provisions.
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