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United States v. Glens Falls Newspapers, Inc.

ELR Citation: 29 ELR 20301
Nos. 97-6262, 160 F.3d 853/(2d Cir., 10/27/1998)

The court holds that a newspaper cannot intervene in Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) litigation to vacate a consent order mandating that settlement negotiations between CERCLA parties remain confidential. The court first holds that the presumption of public access to settlement negotiations, draft agreements, and conference statements is negligible to nonexistent. Access to settlement discussions and documents has no value to those monitoring the exercise of Article III judicial power by the federal courts. The judge cannot act upon these discussions until they are final, and the judge may not be privy to all of them. In addition, the settlement conference statements under the local rules for the district court are used to keep the judge apprised of the parties' independent progress toward settlement and are specifically not for public view. Further, material prepared solely with reference to the government's posture in a legal proceeding is exempt from disclosure under the state freedom of information law. The court next holds that the need for a fair and efficient resolution through settlement of this complex, expensive, 10-year-old case of great public importance far outweighs the negligible presumption of access to settlement materials. The settlement negotiations would be chilled to the point of ineffectiveness if draft materials were to be made public.

Counsel for Appellees
J. Jared Snyder, Ass't Attorney General
Attorney General's Office
State Capitol, Albany NY 12224
(518) 474-7330

Counsel for Appellants
Thomas F.Gleason
Gleason, Dunn, Walsh & O'Shea
102 Hackett Blvd., Albany NY 12209
(518) 432-7511

Before Kearse and Johnson, JJ.1