|By Susan Chandler, Chicago Tribune|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jul. 16, 2005 - Seven months after the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that a case involving the Pritzker family should be unsealed, attorneys representing Chicago's wealthiest clan are still trying to limit what will become part of the public record.
Of the three boxes of documents in the case, the Pritzkers are seeking to black out 251 full pages and 88 partial pages, arguing the information would seriously hurt their $15 billion business empire and put their children in danger of being kidnapped.
Pritzker attorney Lowell Sachnoff argued that "psychotic people who were reading the Tribune or the National Enquirer" could learn the names of the family's minor children and be gripped by an "uncontrollable interest to do harm."
"The risk for wealthy families is real. It's more real in cases like this where wealth is not in the millions but billions. It would alter the lives of these children forever."
Ken Kraus, an attorney representing the Chicago Tribune, argued it's already too late to keep the children's names secret because at least a dozen of them already can be found through a simple Google search of the Web.
"It's hard to understand what we're arguing about if the names are publicly available," said Kraus. "That the Pritzkers have money is a known fact."
Cook County Circuit Judge David Donnersberger said he will rule July 29 on whether to allow the redactions requested by the Pritzkers. The centerpiece of the three-year-old case is a complicated and confidential family settlement agreement that lays out how the Pritzker empire, which includes the Hyatt hotel chain, will be broken up and sold off over a 10-year period.
The existence of the case was secret for a year and a half because a previous judge closed the courtroom and sealed the records. But the Tribune intervened last year, citing the public's interest in open access to the courts.
The Illinois Appellate Court ruled in the Tribune's favor in December, noting that the "mere fact a person may suffer embarrassment or damage to his reputation...does not justify sealing a court file." The Pritzker withdrew the case in January.
The family settlement agreement never became part of the official case file although it was shown to the previous judge in his chambers. The Tribune has argued the agreement should be made part of the record for that reason, something the Pritzkers oppose.
The judge acknowledged that Tribune attorneys are "boxing with shadows" because they have not been able to see any of the documents in the case. Donnersberger expressed some sympathy for protecting the names and addresses of the minor children although he also indicated he found it hard to understand why the Pritzkers want to withhold some other information.
The Pritzker attorneys also argued that the Pritzker Organization's ability to recruit talent, raise capital and attract business partners would be damaged if the entire case file is released.
Attorney William Quinlan said the only interest "outsiders" might have in the details of the family settlement agreement would be of "a prurient nature."
Kraus, the Tribune's attorney, said the Pritzkers must show specific harm that would result from revealing things such as trade secrets or business plans in order to outweigh the public's right to know what is happening in courts paid for with tax dollars.
Instead of doing that, the family's attorneys have relied on vague predictions of doom, Kraus said.
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