Back in September, our blog discussed how Brian France, chairman and CEO of NASCAR, was embroiled in a rather interesting legal battle concerning his ability to keep divorce-related documents sealed from the public.
France originally filed for divorce from his then-wife Megan France back in 2008 in North Carolina. As part of the divorce settlement, France agreed to pay her $9 million, $32,000 a month in alimony for a decade and $10,000 a month in child support.
However, five months after the divorce, France’s attorneys went to court to enforce the confidentiality provisions of the divorce settlement. Here, they argued that France “was entitled to a sealed court file not only in that matter but in all future civil actions related to the agreement.”
North Carolina law dictates that while most divorces and divorce hearings are treated as matters of public record, a judge does have the option of sealing records in high-profile divorce and child custody cases.
The trial court judge ultimately granted France’s motion to keep the documents sealed. However, The Charlotte Observer and a local television station both appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
Here, the appellate court determined that France’s interest in keeping the litigation private was indeed outweighed by the public right to an open legal proceeding.
Using this decision as guidance, a different trail court judge reversed the original judge, holding that the court documents and hearings in the France litigation should be opened to the public.
However, France’s attorneys challenged this ruling to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, arguing that a trial court judge does not have discretion to overturn the decision of a judge of equal rank and that to allow so would result in “judicial anarchy.”
The newspaper and television station challenged the request to keep the documents sealed yet again, arguing that France has no constitutional or compelling right to privacy that outweighs the public right to an open legal proceeding.
In recent developments, the three-judge appellate panel held just last week that the decision of the lower court judge to unseal the documents was indeed valid and should proceed accordingly. Furthermore, the court noted that since its decision was unanimous, France is not granted the right of automatic appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
It is worth noting that Megan France has not taken a side in the matter, but did ask the court to decide the matter as quickly as possible so that the litigation over the confidentiality provisions can proceed.
Stay tuned for more from our Ft. Worth family law blog …
To learn more about dissolution of marriage or other divorce-related issues, contact an experienced and skilled legal professional.
This post is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.
KNOE, “Court upholds order on NASCAR CEO’s divorce case,” Michael Biesecker, Dec. 31, 2012
Thatsracin.com, “NASCAR CEO France fights to keep divorce private,” Sept. 25, 2012