Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

New California Law at Center of Media Debate

A California law that Governor Arnold Schwarnenegger signed on June 7, 2004 that permits some divorce records to be sealed at the request of either party is at the center of a constitutional challenge. Section 2024.6 of the California Family Code allows either party to petition the court to list financial assets and then seal the information. The code section provides that  "[t]he request may be made by ex parte application."  In billionaire Ron Burkle's pending divorce from wife Janet, attorneys for the investor have invoked this section to seal what observers believe might be some extremely interesting financial information. Lawyers for Mrs. Burkle and some media attorneys, including representatives for the Associated Press and the L. A. Times, have now challenged the move before a judge in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

It's not entirely clear why the Family Code was amended in this way, but the bill passed both houses as "urgency" legislation. Two lawmakers who supported the measure, John Burton of San Francisco and Christine Kehoe of San Diego, have not commented so far. Kehoe has championed privacy rights legislation in the past. Some commentators suggest that wealthy political supporters like Burkle have an interest in protecting information about their assets in case of divorce. Attorneys for Burkle had apparently unsuccessfully tried to seal some financial records shortly before the change in the code.

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