Public trust on trial

Editorial from the Post Register

As important as open courts are to the public, the issue is even more vital to eastern Idaho’s judicial system. Credibility is one commodity eastern Idaho courts can ill afford to lose.

At issue is Melaleuca’s attempt to cut off public access to its legal dispute with its former vice president for marketing, Jeff Wasden. Melaleuca is concerned Wasden may disclose trade secrets in the proceedings. The company has every right to protect proprietary information.

But Melaleuca is asking Judge Brent Moss of Rexburg for an order “sealing the court’s entire file and closing all courtroom proceedings to the public.”

That’s taking a meat cleaver approach to a situation requiring surgical precision, a case-by-case review rather than a blanket order. Imagine if Moss grants the motion: How would you ever open the proceedings later on? Would you learn how this case turns out? How much trust would you have in any trial you can’t attend and in which the case files become a state secret?

Past Supreme Court rulings on the topic lead to a pair of themes: People have a right to open courtrooms. Openness is a check on arbitrary courtroom decisions. And the courts need the public’s trust. Secret star chambers erode that confidence. These interests are mutual.

This is a symbiotic relationship. Our system of government depends on it. The courts are a bulkhead against misbehavior — from other branches of government, from private individuals and from organizations. If people lose confidence in the system’s transparency and impartiality, if they come to believe the system plays favorites or makes decisions in private, the courts lose their moral authority.

Sadly, eastern Idahoans have experienced that loss of faith. Without this newspaper’s investigation and legal efforts to pry open a pair of sealed Bonneville County files, the efforts of local Boy Scout officials to conceal sexual abuse of Scouts by camp staff members would have prevailed.

Former Idaho Falls Prosecutor Kimball Mason is going to serve at least four years in prison for stealing guns from the Idaho Falls Police. It’s the rare prosecutor who gets in trouble, let alone ends up convicted of not one but two felonies and is sent to prison for it.

And that happened right here in the 7th Judicial District.

So as he takes up the Melaleuca motion, Judge Moss will be serving his profession’s own interests best by serving yours.

Marty Trillhaase

Case facts

Melaleuca’s motion asking for an order “sealing the court’s entire file and closing all courtroom proceedings to the public” was to be heard Tuesday — but was delayed when Seventh District Judge Brent Moss of Rexburg took over.

Judge Darren Simpson of Blackfoot stepped down after Wasden’s lawyers argued he’d been compromised. Simpson’s successful 2006 race against former Judge James Herndon got a $16,000 assist from Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot and his wife Belinda.

Moss is the fourth judge assigned to the case. Lawyers for former Melaleuca Vice President for Marketing Jeff Wasden exercised their right to disqualify District Judge Greg Anderson. Next assigned to the case was District Judge Richard St. Clair, and Melaleuca’s attorney’s moved to remove him from hearing the case.

Editorial from the Post Register

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