It’s been a rough year for Bill O’Reilly. Last April, he was forced out of Fox News after more than 20 years with the network. At the center of the firing were investigations into allegations of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior by the long-time conservative anchor. It was revealed that O’Reilly had entered into numerous settlements with women who had accused him of inappropriate behavior. Now, despite O’Reilly’s best legal efforts, a federal judge has ruled that those settlement terms can be revealed to the public.
Sexual Harassment and Defamation
Andrea Mackris, Rebecca Gomez Diamond, and Rechel Witlieb sued O’Reilly for defamation, claiming he, Fox News, and 21st Century Fox smeared them by calling them liars and extortionists over their claims of sexual misconduct. Amid these defamation claims, O’Reilly’s legal team submitted a motion to seal the settlement agreements he had made with the women who had accused him of harassment.
Federal Judge Deborah Batts denied O’Reilly’s motion, pointing to the presumption that such documents should be available for public access. She said the former anchor “has not even come close to rebutting this First Amendment presumption.” This means that the attorneys for the women in the defamation case can present the settlement terms as evidence in their lawsuit.
When Does a Judge Seal Settlement Terms?
A sealing order, also known as an “order of confidentiality” or “secrecy order,” is the exception to the rule when it comes to sealing the records of court proceedings. In making this decision, the court weigh’s an individual’s right to privacy against the public’s right to court records. The presumption is that the public should have access to these types of agreements. However, you can rebut that presumption by presenting “compelling countervailing factors” that show the motioning party will suffer serious injury if the order isn’t granted. For example, courts tend to seal records that deal with minors.
Settlement Terms Revealed
The judge’s ruling regarding O’Reilly’s motion means that the public is now able to see the terms of those settlements for the first time. For example, one term in the 2004 settlement with Ms. Mackris says that all parties would have to disclaim any evidence as “counterfeit or forgeries” if it was made public. Another said that if Mackris went public about the settlement details, she would have to return all sums paid under the agreement, and pay O’Reilly’s attorney’s fees, in addition to other penalties. The agreements also “prohibit plaintiffs from assisting or cooperating with other victims of O’Reilly’s harassment,” according to the defamation suit.