For many people in the public eye, the fact that court files are open to the public can bring up some serious second thoughts, particularly in sensitive areas like family law. Unfortunately, preventing the potential personal embarrassment of adults hasn’t traditionally been considered a sufficient reason to seal court files — although some judges apparently do allow it. As the CEO of NASCAR recently learned, however, even a judge’s agreement offers no real guarantee.
Several years ago, North Carolina family court judge had ordered the records of several family law disputes involving NASCAR’s chairman and his ex-wife sealed from the public. Citing the public’s general right to inspect court files, however, reporters from two area news outlets filed a motion to have the records unsealed. After a lengthy legal battle, that state’s highest court ordered the files unsealed in May.
Now the pair has agreed to end their disputes, or at least to resolve them personally or through a private alternative dispute resolution process. According to attorneys for the parties, all pending litigation has been dismissed and their disputes have been “amicably resolved all existing disputes on confidential terms that are consistent with the best interests of their children and their respective families.”
According to reports, the disputes involved each side alleging that the other had breached their 2008 separation agreement. The CEO was to transfer a total of $9 million his ex-wife in $3-million installments, along with substantial alimony and child support. When the CEO missed an installment, the wife sued him for breach. He contended he wasn’t required to pay because of her own breach.
The details aren’t important here, and our point is not to cast aspersion. Family law issues are often emotionally challenging, and who among us would want every aspect of our family’s legal dispute scrutinized? In this case, however, the threat of public scrutiny may have been just the jolt necessary to encourage reflection.
“I think both of them are glad to have it over with,” said one of the attorneys upon the settlement announcement. “I think they’re both just looking to move forward with their lives.”