What's behind the curtain, Judge Seibert?

By The West Virginia Record | Dec 3, 2010

"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain," said the Wizard of Oz as Dorothy's dog, Toto, exposed him to view.

As long as he remained concealed, Oz was able to create a false front for himself and deceive the citizens of the Emerald City. When Toto drew back the curtain, the "great and powerful" Oz was exposed as a mere mortal and a humbug.

In the real world, the Iron and Bamboo Curtains concealed the atrocities of communism from the eyes of free people and hid the freedoms of the West from captive citizens of Russia and China.

Curtains at home protect a person's privacy. Curtains of secrecy in the public halls of government can conceal abuses and misuses of power.

U.S. Magistrate Judge James Seibert in Wheeling has drawn the curtain on one of his cases. He held a secret hearing Nov. 18 in a dispute over where to depose former CSX railroad workers alleging malpractice against a Texas law firm. He has not posted minutes of the hearing and has sealed a list of exhibits from it.

His court case docket showed entries numbered 147 and 149, with 148 mysteriously missing. Courts are required to be open to public scrutiny except in rare instances such as national security or for the protection of children.

Thirteen CSX workers and two widows, all from North Carolina, are seeking to have their depositions moved from Wheeling to locations near their homes. They allege that Atlanta lawyer Edward Cook filed personal injury suits against CSX in Georgia on their behalf, but dismissed the suits after he was hired by Provost Umphrey of Beaumont, Texas.

According to the complaint, Provost Umphrey then filed their suits, along with many others, in Marshall County, West Virginia, without the knowledge or approval of the North Carolinians, who claim that the value of their suits fell as a result.

Why the secrecy? What's behind Curtain Number 148? No public person will say. Since when do tax financed courts get to slam the door on the public without a word of explanation?

What are lawyers concealing from their clients and us? Why is Judge Seibert aiding this privatizing of a public courtroom? When lawyers battle one another about bad practices, do they get to do so in private away from the eyes of the public? Where is that written in the Constitution?

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