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High-Profile Litigants Get Cases Sealed in Chicago Courts

Posted Oct 1, 2012 7:24 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Chicago-area judges have sealed hundreds of cases in the last dozen years, benefiting several high-profile litigants.

A Chicago Tribune investigative report revealed some of the well-known litigants whose names were kept out of the public record in Cook County. They included:

• Chef Laurent Gras, who sued for injuries in a bicycling accident.

• Judge Elliott Muse Jr., who sued lawyer Adam Bourgeois Jr. for unpaid office rent. Bourgeois became a judge after the suit was filed.

• A lawyer with breast cancer who sued her doctors.

• TV news anchorman Walter Jacobson, who was involved in a libel suit.

Judge Wayne Rhine sealed the landlord-tenant case involving Muse and Bourgeois. Rhine explained why in a Tribune interview. “I didn't want two sitting judges hanging out their dirty laundry," Rhine said. "If they run for retention or for another office, this could come back to haunt them. I did it as an accommodation for fellow judges." Both Muse and Bourgeois told the Tribune they didn’t ask to have the case sealed.

At least 436 cases were sealed in Cook County's Law Division since 2000, according to the clerk's office. As of July 1, 166 remained sealed, including 100 in which the litigants' identities were also sealed, the Tribune report says.

According to Illinois case law, court files should not be closed absent a compelling reason, the story says. But judges regularly failed to state a reason in written orders sealing files. Even the sealing orders were often kept secret despite case law holding they are public documents.

An Associated Press story summarizes the Tribune report.

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