A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that a new state statute that allows entire divorce proceedings to be sealed violates the First Amendment, according to a 10-page decision issued on Monday.
The ruling comes in a contentious divorce trial between billionaire Ron Burkle and his estranged wife, Janet. Ron Burkle, whose net worth was estimated last year by the Business Journal to be $1.9 billion, filed a motion last December under the statute to seal a foot-high stack of financial documents, including a detailed 1997 post-marital agreement.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the statute into law as emergency legislation in June.
In his ruling, Superior Court Judge Roy Paul called the statute "overbroad" because it allowed entire court pleadings to be sealed, rather than a portion of those pleadings. "Thus, a 100-page pleading filled with legal argument of genuine public interest must be sealed if a party's home address appears even in a footnote," he wrote.
"We believe his ruling is correct," said Hillel Chodos, an attorney for Janet Burkle, who argued the statute was unconstitutional. Susan Seager, an attorney for the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press, has made similar arguments after joining the case in December.
Ron Burkle's attorney, Patricia Glaser, a partner at Christensen Miller Fink Jacobs Glaser Weil and Shapiro, said she is considering appealing the decision.
"We respectfully disagree, but we were pleased that he appeared sympathetic about some of the information we want sealed," she said of the judge. In his ruling, Paul recognized that social security or bank account numbers would rarely be of public interest.
A provisional sealing of the divorce filings issued last December remains in effect for 60 days in order for Ron Burkle to obtain sealing orders under other state laws or to appeal the recent decision.
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