Maryland malpractice case gives a reminder about the ugly underside of secrecy in our public courts

poundlogo-300x84The Pound Civil Justice Institute (I’m immediate past president) held its annual forum for state court appellate judges on July 11 (virtually, for the first and hopefully last time) on the topic of “Dangerous Secrets: Confronting Confidentiality in Our Public Courts.”

This important topic has long  been close to my heart. I’ve written and talked to plaintiff lawyer groups all over the country about why we need to resist secret settlements of our lawsuits and protective orders that hide hot documents, and other related secrecy matters. Confidentiality is bad for the plaintiffs’ bar, bad for the justice system, bad for our clients, but good for defendants.  Read more by clicking here.

Now I read in the Baltimore Sun that Maryland attorney Steven Snyder has been charged by the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission with trying to extort $50 million from the University of Maryland Medical System to keep quiet problems in the UMMS transplant program that his clients’ experiences threatened to expose.

I know nothing about the merits of this new case. But I do know this is an issue that lawyers who represent victims need to think long and hard about whenever  embarking on settling a case. Our firm’s own simple motto, in line with Maryland and District of Columbia attorney ethics opinions, is that we will keep the amount of settlements confidential to protect our clients from prying eyes, but the public record facts of the case have to stay on the public record. That helps curb serial tortfeasors from harming future victims, and it lets our clients hold their heads high. It also helps us attorneys from getting too greedy for our own good.

The Pound Institute will have a report published this fall on the judges’ forum about this topic. We had legal scholars discuss all sides of the issue and the judges were very engaged with the topic.

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