Last week, September 4, 2012, Judge Richard F. Cebull of the U.S. District Court in Butte, Montana, finally granted in part Intervenor Richard Barber’s Motion to Unseal certain documents from previously settled private litigation. That litigation stemmed from a 1991 claim by the family of Brent Aleksich, a 14-year old boy who was injured when the family’s Remington 700 rifle discharged accidentally.
Intervenor Richard Barber’s son, Gus, was fatally injured when the family’s Remington 700 rifle also accidentally discharged without the trigger having been pulled. For much of the past 17 years Barber has been trying to gain access to the documents from the Aleksich case which could point to defects in the Remington 700 rifle which might have a bearing on the cause of the accidental death of his own son, Gus. Richard Barber was not interested in the amount of settlement, which could easily have been redacted, nor in the terms and conditions of the settlement agreement and release. Yet there had been no general history of public access to confidential settlement agreements in private litigation and there were lingering sentiments that public disclosure would defeat the 1995 settlement agreement in the Aleksich case and undermine policy favoring future settlements.
Last February, most of the documents in the Aleksich case had been made public but some 18 documents remained under seal. Thanks largely to the work of the Public Justice Foundation, Executive Director Arthur Bryant, and a team of attorneys including Amy Radon and Leslie Bailey, Bill Rossbach of Missoula, and Richard Ramler of Belgrade, Montana, U.S. District Court Judge Cebull has granted access in part to the remaining documents. Some of those documents contain important information about potentially dangerous defects in Remington's rifles.
When court secrecy impedes or impairs public safety, we agree with the Public Justice Foundation, it has no place in the civil justice system. We concur that in this case, justice is served and the public should have complete access to court documents filed during litigation by Remington Rifle Co. It is reasonable to expect that had either of the boys’ parents known about the defects in the Remington 700, they would not have purchased nor allowed their families to own or use the gun.
While this fight spanned two decades, it is worth noting that the fight was ultimately won by Mr. Barber to educate the public about this firearms defect.