An Oregon Supreme Court opinion that received signficant media attention this week has implications for the litigation of trade secret cases in the state. The opinion focused on the Open Courts provision of the Oregon Constitution, and the immediate issue addressed by the Court was whether decades' worth of internal Boy Scout sex abuse files would be made public.
The files had been produced in discovery by the Boy Scouts in a case in which plaintiffs claimed abuse by a scouting volunteer. The files were maintained as confidential during discovery pursuant to a protective order. The files were later admitted into evidence in a Multnomah County trial in which the Boy Scouts were found liable. After the trial, news organizations including The Oregonian, the Associated Press and The New York Times, sought to view the files, citing Article I, Section 10 of the state Constitution, which provides that "No court shall be secret, but justice shall be administered, openly and without purchase, completely and without delay." The trial court judge ordered the files released, but with the names of victims and the people who reported the abuse redacted.
Both the media parties and the Boy Scounts sought mandamus review by the Oregon Supreme Court, with the media parties advocating for an absolute right of the public to view evidence admitted at trial, in particular in this case without redactions.
The Court rejected the media parties' view, confirming that the Open Courts clause does not create an individual right to observe court proceedings, but rather dictates how the institution of the courts operate. The principle of open justice allows the public to attend and view the administration of justice by the courts. Justice Robert Durham, writing for the Court, concluded that limiting post-trial access to evidence admitted at trial is not in violation of that principle.
The Court nonetheless held that the trial court had the power to make public evidence admitted at trial, including evidence that had been produced subject to a protective order. In particular, a court may conclude that granting a request to inspect evidence after the completion of a trial will foster public understanding of the administration of justice. In this case the judge did not abuse his discretion in ordering the files released with names redacted.
The Court's rejection of an absolute right of access to trial evidence means that courts can continue to protect the interests of parties to trade secret litigation. The result is consistent with the position of TechAmerica, which filed an amicus brief in the case. TechAmerica, the leading trade association for the electronics industry, argued that trial courts must be allowed to limit access to trial evidence in appropriate cases in order, for example, to avoid public disclosure of trade secrets in appropriate cases. Ater Wynne attorney Lori Irish Bauman filed the brief on behalf of TechAmerica.