Open government group, newspaper ask judge to unseal state’s opioid lawsuit against Purdue Pharma

Statement from Tennessee Coalition for Open Government

We have filed, along with Jack McElroy, editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel, a motion to intervene in the state’s opioid lawsuit against Purdue Pharma to oppose and object to any order restricting public access to records, exhibits, testimony, pleadings and other materials in the case.

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery filed the action against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, L.P. on May 15 in Knoxville Circuit Court. The complaint was filed under seal with an accompanying motion and memorandum asking the court to allow the 270-page lawsuit, which contains “detailed factual allegations concerning the Defendant’s conduct,” to remain under seal for 10 days to give Purdue Pharma time to file a protective order.

The state said in its memorandum that the complaint “contains references to documents and information that Purdue Pharma asserts contain highly confidential, proprietary, or trade secret information.” However, the state argued that the complaint should be unsealed after 10 days “because the State is a public litigant, the Complaint involves a matter of immense public concern, and the Defendant in unlikely to show specific harm as a result from disclosure of the Complaint.”

Our motion, filed yesterday by Knoxville attorney and TCOG board member Rick Hollow, asks to intervene “for the purpose of opposing and objecting to any Order of this Court restricting public access to any records, exhibits, testimony, pleadings and other materials of any kind or nature received by the Court in the course of this litigation.”

We argue that “[t]here is a compelling interest by the citizens in the State of Tennessee pertaining to information regarding this issue. Not the least of these concerns is that whatever flows from opioid addiction becomes a matter of critical importance to the fabric of families, cities and counties as well as to taxpayers of the State of Tennessee who will inevitably be asked to, through their tax contributions, to assume the responsibility for the damages and losses suffered by the citizens of this state.”

Our arguments are outlined extensively in our memo filed with the motion. They center around the recognized presumptive rights of access of the public and of the press to trials and judicial records based on common law, the First Amendment, Tennessee’s constitution and state precedent. We also outline how such rights can only be overcome by a demonstrably stronger competing interest of substantial harm to the entity seeking closure.

Note: Text of the motion is HERE.

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