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Bill O’Reilly has convinced a New York Supreme Court judge to seal a vast amount of court records in his $10 million lawsuit against Michael Klar, an attorney who represented the former Fox News star’s ex-wife Maureen McPhilmy.
The television personality, who lost his Fox News job upon attention to $13 million in sexual harassment settlements, is claiming in his suit that Klar aided and abetted McPhilmy in fraudulently inducing O’Reilly to enter into a separation agreement leading to the dissolution of his marriage and then submitting a divorce judgment for execution which incorporated non-consensual terms.
After O’Reilly publicly filed his complaint in December, Klar brought a motion to dismiss with multiple documents from the matrimony case as exhibits. But Klar couldn’t do so publicly because O’Reilly insisted all materials were confidential. Divorce records are routinely sealed, but what makes this case somewhat unusual — besides O’Reilly’s public stature — is Klar’s insistence that he should be allowed public vindication in the face of O’Reilly’s publicly lodged accusations of fraud.
Then, Gizmodo Media — formerly known as Gawker Media — intervened with its own arguments. CNN considered doing the same, but got cold feet.
“Mr. O’Reilly is a high profile plaintiff who has availed himself of the courts of this state on multiple occasions to pursue cases against his ex-wife — and now against her lawyer — for millions of dollars in damages for fraudulent inducement to enter into a contract,” wrote Gizmodo’s attorneys. “At the same time, he uses his public platform as a conservative television personality to advocate for what he refers to as ‘family values.’ There is substantial public interest in understanding how Mr. O’Reilly’s personal conduct — which is furthered by his use of the judicial system — diverges from the political, religious or social stances he takes publicity.”
In turn, O’Reilly argued that “past media attention has caused his children extreme emotional distress” and that he and his wife had “agreed to strict confidentiality of the terms and circumstances of the Separation Agreement to shield the children from the pressures of unwanted and intrusive publicity surrounding the separation.”
Judge Jeffrey Brown thus had to figure out not only whether to keep matrimonial records private, but also to seal documents that referenced these documents. He had to weigh the public interest against privacy (including McPhilmy’s) and also heed how records were previously sealed in the divorce case and then affirmed by an appellate court. He was also influenced by the 2014 passage of a New York procedural rule — 22 N.Y.C. R.R. §202.5(e) — aimed at preventing the unnecessary disclosure of confidential personal information.
The judge ultimately decides to seal almost everything while also granting a motion to keep secret “any future motion or pleadings in this action that disclose or refer to such confidential material.”
The procedural rules may also allow the judge to exclude members of the public — including the press — from future hearings and a trial. It’s something that O’Reilly’s lawyers could take advantage of when the judge entertains oral arguments about whether to dismiss the case at a hearing later this month. In the meantime, O’Reilly has already become redaction-happy in court filings.
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