Right to Know Trumps Trump

Here is an excellent piece from Alison Frankel about the sheer absurdity of the ruling in the Trump University litigation that had sealed the records in the case.  In that 2015 order, a Magistrate Judge had sealed the Trump U “playbooks”  because he bought Trump’s argument that they were “trade secrets.”  As of 2015, the Ponzi scheme “University” hadn’t operated since 2010. 


The playbooks demonstrate that Trump University sale people were trained to operate with the same integrity displayed by the average time share sales person.  The playbooks contained tips on how to instill a false sense of urgency, how to assess the potential l students’ “liquid assets” and other tricks known to con men everywhere. 


Fortunately, the trial Judge – whom Trump, mustering all of the jurisprudential eloquence of which he is capable, refers to as a “hater” – recently unsealed the records.   That is unquestionably the correct decision, but Ms. Frankel wonders if it came too late.  Perhaps if his Republican opponents had been able to show in detail the sleaziness of the operation, they may have gained some traction.  Perhaps.  Or perhaps that too would have fallen on deaf ears.  We will never know.


But the original decision to seal the records illustrates that courts should really be reluctant to seal records ever.  Courts are forums for public disputes.  And the public has a right to see what gets filed there.  Legitimate trade secrets – like product formulations or other truly proprietary information – may be subject to some protection.  But more often than not, parties seek to shield from public view material that is not a trade secret. And they do it, as in the Trump case, to avoid emabarrasment.  That is not a valid reason to shut the doors of the justice system.  Congratulations to Judge Curiel for doing the right thing.