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A Canadian court is standing up for the principle of openness. On Wednesday, Disney lost a bid in Ontario to seal a series of employment agreements in the 1990s with Harvey Weinstein.
The decision comes in a lawsuit brought by an anonymous Toronto actress, who says she was twice victimized by Harvey Weinstein in a hotel room in 2000. This case hasn’t generated nearly as much attention as several cases in the United States, but that could swiftly change for a couple of reasons. First, Ontario has no statute of limitations for sexual assault claims. And second, Disney stands accused of negligence as a co-defendant in the case.
Disney is looking to pause the actress’ claims with the position that Weinstein had “virtual autonomy” to manage his business and that there is no legal basis for a claim against it. The studio intends to bring a stay motion and in advance of doing so, told the Ontario Superior Court of Justice that it wished to present three employment agreements with Weinstein to support its arguments but needed to do so under seal.
Unfortunately for Disney, it has run into Ontario Court’s P. Tamara Sugunasiri, who opens a decision by stating, “Search for the truth is the noblest occupation of man; its publication is a duty.”
Sugunasiri, the case manager, notes that in rare instances, fundamental openness must be abrogated to protect other important interests but concludes this is not one of those times.
Disney argued that the employment agreements had confidentiality provisions that prevented public disclosure.
Sugunasiri responds by noting that the confidentiality obligations were on Weinstein, not Disney — and so the latter lacked evidence that it would be in breach for disclosing contracts.
“I am not persuaded that Disney requires a sealing order over the agreements in order to prevent a serious risk of an important interest,” Sugunasiri writes.
After consultation with the plaintiff, Disney may get to redact certain portions, but it won’t be able to merely “cherry-pick” the provisions of the contract that support Weinstein’s supposed autonomy — that is, if Disney moves forward by using these deals in its court papers. The court hasn’t ruled that Disney must disclose them.
Nevertheless, the case holds the potential of exploring Disney’s knowledge or role in Weinstein’s affairs. Although Disney has proclaimed the anonymous Jane Doe’s legal claims to be without legal merit, the plaintiff will soon have the opportunity to explain to the court why further discovery is in order.
There’s also Barbara Schneeweiss, Weinstein’s assistant and another co-defendant, who allegedly called the plaintiff back in 2000 to tell her Weinstein was impressed after watching initial footage of a film and arranged meetings where the alleged assaults occurred. Schneeweiss attempted to argue that although there is no statute of limitations for sexual assault claims, the allegations directed at her were not sufficiently in relation to the applicable act. Schneeweiss’s motion was rejected.
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