Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Why The Secrecy In French Lick Casino Suit?

Cook Group, Inc. of Bloomington is suing its partner, Lauth Resorts & Casinos, LLC, concerning the two's effort to build a new casino in French Lick. Generally, the records in civil cases of this nature are open to the public, but not in this case. In an unusual move, Orange Co. Circuit Court Judge Larry Blanton agreed to seal the documents concerning the lawsuit and a request for injunctive relief filed by Cook Group, Inc. Fortunately, at least one newspaper is asking questions of the court. The Louisville Courier-Journal writes today:

State law requires a hearing before a judge seals a lawsuit. After being questioned by The Courier-Journal about his decision, Blanton said he would set a date today for a hearing on the matter.

Earlier this month, Indiana's gambling regulators acknowledged that Cook and Lauth had entered mediation in an attempt to resolve a continuing dispute over control of the project. It includes the casino, with 1,200 slot machines and 46 table games, as well as several restaurants and a convention center.

The partnership, called Blue Sky Casino LLC, also is overseeing a restoration of the French Lick Springs Resort and its 18-hole golf course, and the construction of a second golf course, a new swimming-pool complex and an 800-space parking garage.
Officials of both companies declined yesterday to discuss the litigation or other aspects of an ambitious Nov. 1 deadline for opening the casino and 400 rooms at the French Lick resort. Ernest Yelton, executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission, said the commission staff had not had a chance to review the lawsuit.

A one-page order, signed by Blanton on June 8, granted the request from Orange County Holdings LLC, a company formed by Cook Group, to file the lawsuit and the related request for injunctive relief under seal.

The law, however, requires a court to first hold a public hearing before granting a request to seal a court record so that the parties or members of the public can testify and submit written briefs. A decision to seal all or part of the record must be based on findings that the public interest will be secured by sealing the record or that disseminating the information could be harmful to the public interest, according to the law.

Blanton declined to say during a brief interview whether a hearing on the matter had been held. But in a subsequent interview he said he would hold a hearing and cited a trial rule for his authority to keep the documents under seal until then.

The judge also held a brief conference call with Reed Osland, a Chicago lawyer representing Cook, and an Indianapolis firm acting on behalf of Lauth to notify them of questions raised by the newspaper and of his plans to hold a hearing.

When a public hearing is held, it will be interesting to hear Cook's lawyers explain what is so uniquely different about its suit that entitles it to be shielded from the public.

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