U.S. Magistrate Denies Pueblo's Request for Secrecy in Pending Lawsuit

Magistrate Judge Boyd N. Boland of the U.S. District Court in Colorado ruled October 18, 2010 that certain documents in a lawsuit filed by Renee Huddleson, a Pueblo police officer, against the City of Pueblo cannot be sealed and protected from the public and the press.
The lawsuit was filed by officer Huddleson, alleging gender based discrimination and retaliation in connection with the city’s promotion to sergeant of three male officers instead of the plaintiff.
Huddleson filed a motion for summary judgment, requesting that the court rule in her favor on one or more of the issues in the case without a trial. The city claimed the motion itself and some of the exhibits filed in connection with the motion should be sealed by the court because they contain “confidential” and “private” information regarding Pueblo police officers who took the exam for promotion to sergeant, but who were not parties to the lawsuit.
Some of the information sought to be kept secret from the public includes test scores of the various officers who took the promotion test and the results of interviews with the candidates, along with their rankings.
The city noted that the parties to the case had agreed to the entry of a protective order to protect confidential information. The magistrate pointed out that such an agreement is not binding on the court and that there is a presumption of public access to civil court proceedings, with certain limitations. Among these exceptions are the protection of a party’s right to a fair trial and protection of materials containing purely personal information, and matters considered “scandalous, libelous, or highly personal or sensitive in nature.”
The magistrate judge ruled that the proper functioning of a municipal police department is a matter of substantial public, not private, concern. His ruling will become final unless the city files an objection with the district judge on or before November 1, in which event the documents will remain sealed pending an order by the district judge.

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