Sunday, March 02, 2014

Government Secrecy: Another Kind

Usually when we talk about government secrecy, the topic is something like the US war crimes exposed by Bradley Manning and Wikileaks, the NSA's illegal surveillance programs exposed by Edward Snowden, etc.

It just occurred to me that there's another form of unjustifiable government secrecy. Here's an instance of someone being sanctioned for violating it:

Usually, the worst an ill-advised Facebook post can do is embarrass you (assuming you haven't committed a crime). But recent prep school grad Dana Snay cost her father $80,000 when she made the mistake of talking about her dad's wrongful termination settlement with Gulliver Preparatory School, the Miami Herald reports.

Patrick Snay, 69, had sued the school for age discrimination and won $10,000 in back wages plus an $80,000 settlement. But there was one little condition: Snay had to keep the deal secret.

Now, I'm not a lawyer and I could be wrong, but if I'm not mistaken, civil "settlements" work like this:

  • Party A sues Party B. The suit is filed with, and litigated in, a government court.
  • Party B proposes to Party A that the suit can be settled without going all the way through the trial process. Party A agrees to Party B's settlement offer, or they negotiate until they do reach agreement.
  • The government court approves or rejects the settlement.
I don't see how a secrecy requirement vis a vis such a settlement could be legitimate. The taxpayers paid for the infrastructure in which the proceedings took place. The taxpayers paid the judge's salary. How can the taxpayers not have a right to know anything and everything about the litigation -- including settlement terms?

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