Tribune asks judge to open files in defamation case
An attorney for The Salt Lake Tribune asked a state judge on Thursday to reverse an earlier decision and open court documents in a case in which a founder of Nu Skin Enterprises is suing an ex-husband.
Attorney Ed Carter told 3rd District Judge L.A. Dever judicial rules presume that cases are entirely open for public inspection and that documents can be withheld or redacted only on a document-by-document basis.
In May, Dever signed an order completely closing the case record at the request of attorneys for Sandra Tillotson, a co-founder of Nu Skin, one of Utah's largest publicly traded companies. The news media initially were provided copies of the lawsuit, apparently by mistake, and published stories about it.
Tillotson sued ex-husband Diederik Van Nederveen Meerkerk, alleging he had defamed her, caused her dismissal from the Nu Skin board of directors and cost her $60 million when Nu Skin's stock price fell after he talked with Wall Street analysts about the company. He denies the allegations.
"If the court determines there are no reasonable alternatives, and that the interests favor closure, the court certainly can determine that an individual document can be kept private," Carter said. "But, your honor, I would submit there's been no mention, as far as we can see, that there's been an investigation of what would be the reasonable alternatives to closing an entire court file."
Dever vigorously quizzed Carter over the attorney's argument that courts and their proceedings generally are open so the public can examine how judges resolve disputes in a publicly funded venue.
"I keep missing the point about the public interest here," the judge said. "I don't see how the pubic has an interest in scandalous information about people."
Tillotson's attorney, Joshua Peterman, argued that his client was entitled to a right of privacy in the case and that classifying filings as private on a document-by-document basis would be a waste of resources.
"We have the right to ask the file be sealed," he said.
Dever said he would take the matter under advisement and issue a ruling later. A hearing is set for next week on the Tribune's motion to open the sealed record in a lawsuit in which Tillotson is suing another ex-husband.