WILL $404 MILLION SETTLEMENT HEARING BE OPEN? - Publisher Hedges Request Heard

"In order to have faith in something, it has to be transparent, open to public scrutiny, closed hearings and sealed documents don't accomplish that goal," said Spencer newspaper publisher David Hedges.

Hedges will appear today in Spencer with his attorney before Judge Thomas Evans III, requesting that judicial hearings in the $404 million verdict against Chesapeake Energy be open to the public.

Hedges requested the openness last week when the public was being excluded from the proceedings, while a court-room full of attorneys wrangled about the financial settlement before Judge Evans.

Hedges said Evans early-on gave leeway to a platoon of lawyers to seal some of the evidence. "The result was, darn near everything got sealed," Hedges said.

The lawyers were set to reveal their pre-trail negotiations regarding a settlement, with the public excluded, when publisher Hedges made the openness request. Judge Evans responded quickly to his request.

Evans then asked if Hedges could have his lawyer in the courtroom after lunch, after which Hedges advised the court that he doubted he could find a lawyer in Spencer (or within 50 miles) not involved in the mega-case. His comments brought laughter from the participants.

Attorneys then approached Hedges, wanting to negotiate an agreement so the proceedings could move again quickly. "The court wants me to get a lawyer, if I can find one," he replied.

Hedges contends the court system does not exist for lawyers or billion dollar corporations, it belongs to the public.

He said the sign over the bench says "Equal Justice For All."