PEKIN, Ill. (WMBD) — Approximately 100 pages of documents have been sealed in the lawsuit filed against Aaron Rossi. Now, local media are working to uncover them.
As previously reported, Dr. James Davie, of Davie and Associates Dermatopathology, P.A., (DAAD) is suing Rossi for allegedly pushing him out of Reditus and stealing company funds for personal use. His attorneys are seeking to place Reditus into receivership, where a third party will oversee finances, in order to block Rossi from accessing funds.
In a Zoom meeting Wednesday, Attorney Don Craven filed documents on behalf of media groups in Central Illinois. Those are a petition to intervene, a memorandum in support, and a motion to vacate the protective order that was entered in litigation in Tazewell County involving Reditus labs.
According to Craven, the lawsuit has been “pending for a while.” He said the protective order entered is now being “used to shield from the public much of the discovery material in the case, [which] is now being used to shield access to the pleadings and proposed pleadings in the case”
Craven said the law in pending cases is very clear, that the pleadings must be open, and any protective order filed should be “narrowly tailored and narrowly applied”. It is not enough that a party may find the sealed documents to be embarrassing, he said.
“Only true trade secret information may be protected, and we think that the order, in this case, is way too broad and is being used to improperly shield, what should be a public proceeding, from public scrutiny,” he said.
Speaking on the importance of filing this petition, Craven said it is now a time-pressing matter because there is another hearing on the lawsuit on April 14, and he wants to ensure the proceedings will be open so that media in the area can cover it if they choose.
“It’s fundamental that court proceedings and court files should be open to public scrutiny. People rely on the decisions that judges make in courts, only because we are able to see that process … and understand the decisions that the court makes because we have access,” he said.
Without that transparency, he said, the public’s trust and confidence in the court system diminishes. Because this case could potentially deal directly with taxpayer money, Craven said it is in the public’s best interest these documents be unsealed.
“This company was given substantial state contracts related to COVID testing – was that a wise use of funds?” he asked, adding there are more questions surrounding the case, specifically in regard to what happened to the funds Reditus was given at a local and state level.
Craven said he could not predict whether the judge will rule on behalf of the media but instead referred to the case law which states that only in extraordinary circumstances could a court file a petition for some documents to be closed. This is only in the case of protecting a company from trade secrets, he said.
“That’s the nature of litigation…That’s the price we pay for an open court system,” Craven said.
However, if Reditus does feel the sealed documents will be harmful to the company, those officials will have to make that case to the court, Craven said.
“These are tax dollars that have been paid to the company. It’s not enough to say that it will be embarrassing or that it’s private. It has to be a true trade secret,” he said. “What they may have spent money on is not a trade secret.”
In regard to how the First Amendment relates to this case, Craven said it requires an open court system that is designed to lead to a confident outcome. Courts have discretion and basic authority, but within constitutional bounds.
In regard to the second amended complaint, it all comes down to the financial details, he said. The allegations, in this case, are that the funds were used for an “improper purpose and for the personal benefit of the principals in the company.”
Unsealing these documents would allow the public to see what the funds were used for and if they were properly accounted for. Both state and local dollars have been given to Reditus, for COVID testing and other purposes, which means the public is entitled to the information, he said.
“We need to be able to follow the pleadings and follow the allegations in this case,” Craven said. “We simply want to be in the position to accurately report what is going on.”
As far as being confident in a ruling, Craven said he has presented other arguments similar to this one and is as confident now as he was then.
“I am confident that we will ultimately prevail on the issues that we have raised on this case,” he said.
There is no set date as to when the judge will make his ruling, but a request has been put in for April 14, which is the same day Rossi is due back in Tazewell County Court.