Paper Wants Scientology Documents Unsealed

Source: St. Petersburg Times
Date: October 25, 1988

The St. Petersburg Times has asked a federal judge to unseal four court files pertaining to the Church of Scientology.

The files, which otherwise would be available to the public, were sealed in 1986 by U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich at the Scientologists' request. At the time the church was settling four lawsuits against it by former Clearwater Mayor Gabriel Cazares, among others, for undisclosed sums of money.

The suits alleged that Scientologists invaded the plaintiffs' privacy and abused the courts by filing malicious actions. In another of the suits filed between 1980 and 1982, Tanja C. Burden of Las Vegas said Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, his wife, Mary Sue, and the Clearwater church enslaved her for more than four years.

All parties agreed to settle in 1986, and Scientology attorneys asked that the case files be closed to public scrutiny. The plaintiffs' attorney Walter D. Logan objected but Kovachevich agreed to close the files.

The sealing of the files put all record of the cases and any subsequent developments out of public view. Claiming that "no sufficiently important reason was offered by any of the parties" to override the "presumptive right of public access to court documents," attorneys for the Times filed a motion Monday stating that its newsgathering efforts had been stymied.

The closing of the files "impermissibly impinges upon the free flow of information upon which First Amendment principles are grounded," the motion said.

Earle C. Cooley, a Boston lawyer and national counsel for the Church of Scientology, said Monday that the Scientologists will oppose the Times' motion. "I don't know where the press gets the idea that it has a right to intervene in an agreement entered into by both parties and approved by the court," he said.

"Mr. Cooley's memory is failing him," responded Logan. "We never agreed to seal the court files."

Patricia Fields Anderson, an attorney for the Times, said case law requires that court records be open, "and the burden of proof is on them to show why these cases should be closed."