From the Los Angeles Times
admits mistake, unseals lawsuit against Sharon Stone
A series of inadvertent missteps is
blamed for the concealment of every part of the case, including its very
existence. A former attorney claimed that the actress owed him $107,000.
By Harriet Ryan
April 25, 2009
A judge who kept a lawsuit involving actress Sharon Stone hidden from public
view for six months acknowledged Friday that she made a mistake and ordered
the case unsealed.
In a statement attached to the newly opened file, Los Angeles County Superior
Court Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis said a series of missteps, each committed
"inadvertently," led to the concealment of every part of the case --
including its very existence. She wrote that she sealed the entire suit when
she meant to seal only the exhibits, filed all case documents in a sealed
envelope when only a few belonged there and then forgot to revisit the issue
after the case was settled.
The revelation that a suit concerning a high-profile individual traveled
through the justice system without ever appearing on a public docket concerned
advocates for open courts. They said it violated citizens' rights to know what
is going on in the courthouse and raised the disturbing possibility of other
The judge did not explain why she repeatedly brushed aside requests by
reporters this week to view the file or why a court reporter said she could
not release transcripts of public hearings in the case until the judge agreed.
Duffy-Lewis initially provided reporters only two pages of the 60-page file,
which each stated only that the matter was sealed.
After a Times article Friday about the case, Duffy-Lewis met with the
presiding judge and other court officials. She then reversed course and
admitted the case was erroneously sealed. "Due to the above inadvertence,
the court orders the entire file unsealed," she wrote.
The extraordinary secrecy seemed out of proportion to the actual contents of
the suit -- a fairly standard breach-of-contract action filed by an
entertainment lawyer that Stone fired in 2006. William P. Jacobson claimed
that the actress owed him $107,000 for work that included negotiating an
endorsement contract with Christian Dior perfume as well as her appearance in
the film "Broken Flowers."
The suit would hardly cause jaws to drop in the courthouse, where the
divorces, child custody battles and sexual harassment suits of Hollywood stars
routinely play out before crowds of reporters.
To the parties involved, however, keeping the case secret appeared to be of
the utmost importance. In court papers filed with the suit in November, an
attorney for Jacobson urged the judge to seal every page. The lawyer's
argument appeared to rely more on the confidential terms of a retainer
agreement signed by Stone and Jacobson than state law or the U.S.
"Keeping the records of this action under seal would benefit both
plaintiff and defendant and allow this matter to be heard without the parties
having to reveal their private business dealings to the public at large,"
lawyer David Bower wrote. Stone's attorney, Charles Ruben, never filed a
response in court, but, out of court, the parties worked out a settlement.
Ruben later told the judge the deal was possible because she kept the case
confidential. But at two post-settlement hearings, the judge said the sides
didn't have sufficient grounds for sealing the case indefinitely.
"No court has the jurisdiction to summarily decide that they will seal
records because it's painful or because it's embarrassing or because they just
deem it to be private for the parties," she said at a February hearing,
according to a transcript included in the file.
Duffy-Lewis did express distaste for media coverage of some court matters. If
it were possible to "seal everything wherein small children are involved
and . . . wherein it might very well be in the interest of small children not
to have this stuff you know flying around in TMZ or in the L.A. Times or
whoever it is," she said, "that would be reasonable to the
court." But, she said, she wasn't "empowered" to do so.
At the last hearing, Ruben said unsealing the case would bring additional
litigation and suggested that the judge drop the matter. She took the case off
her calendar and the file was transferred to the records department still
The judge did not respond to questions relayed by court spokesman Allan
Parachini, including whether she had kept other cases secret. Presiding Judge
Charles McCoy would not speak publicly about the case, but Parachini said he
planned to remind judges about the strict guidelines for sealing cases.