The first thing I did after sitting down at my desk the morning of 11 March, 2010, was go online to see if there were any new filings in the Extended Stay America bankruptcy case. The court-appointed examiner by 12 March was scheduled to file a report that was expected to detail the events that caused the company’s bankruptcy—an interesting read to be sure, and if there was any new news, I wanted to post it on HotelNewsNow.com as soon as possible.
Given that the examiner still had a day to file, I didn’t expect to see anything … But then, there it was in the docket report: “Examiner’s Ex Parte Motion For Order Permitting Temporary Filing of Examiner’s Report Under Seal.”
Under seal. Those are dirty words in Journalism Land.
The examiner, a former bankruptcy judge named Ralph R. Mabey, said in his filing 10 March that he was seeking only a temporary seal.
“The overwhelming majority of the purportedly ‘confidential’ documents and information on which the Report relies appears in the factual background section of the Report,” Mabey said in the filing. “Such information is so inextricably interwoven throughout the factual background section that there was no feasible way for the Examiner to redact around the same and still file a Coherent report.”
He also said in the filing that all the contents of the report should be made public—and he’s right, they should be.
I understand I’m coming at this from the perspective of a nosy journalist, but I believe we tread into dangerous territory when we begin censoring court filings such as this. I fear it leads us down a slippery slope that will eventually result in government and court proceedings being done in the dark. Unlikely? Maybe, but I’d still rather err on the side of transparency.
The court will decide on 8 April whether to unseal the report. That’s about four weeks from now. Tell me: What is so super-secret today that will be OK for everyone to learn about next month? Yes, there could be a deal for someone to acquire the beleaguered company, but confidential information from potential deals should not be confused with information from an $8-billion deal that appeared to be doomed from the start.
Extended Stay’s creditors, employees, and, yes, even us enquiring journalists, have a right to know about the bombshells Mabey might have discovered while researching his report. It’s my hope that the Court makes the correct decision next month and opens up the investigation for all to see.