Firm suing B&D seeks lifting of court order

Image Dynamics, Sun want public access to proceedings, files

Legal affairs

November 03, 1999|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

Lawyers for the public relations firm that is suing Black & Decker Corp. filed a motion yesterday to lift the protective order that bars outside parties from reviewing court documents and prevents either side from discussing the case.

The move followed a motion filed by The Sun Monday to open the records.

"That Black & Decker may be embarrassed by the disclosure of certain information provides an insufficient basis to deny public access to hearings or to the Court's files," Image Dynamics Inc. lawyer Alan M. Rifkin said in a separate letter to Baltimore Circuit Judge Thomas E. Noel.

Noel had issued the protective order at the request of the Towson-based toolmaker, which has since tried twice -- once successfully -- to have the courtroom cleared during pretrial hearings.

A hearing date on the motions has not yet been set.

Image Dynamics filed suit in August 1998 against one of its former employees and Black & Decker, alleging that they violated an agreement that bars former Image Dynamics employees from doing work for its clients for two years after leaving the firm. Defendant David P. Olsen of Columbia worked for Image Dynamics on its Black & Decker account, then several weeks after leaving the firm in December 1996 began doing similar work for the toolmaker.

Image Dynamics is seeking information related to two women who left Black & Decker after lodging sexual harassment charges. The women received $63,000 and $88,000, respectively, in a settlement. Image Dynamics is charging that the settlement agreements included a stipulation requiring the women to testify on Black & Decker's behalf in the current case.

In a deposition filed in Circuit Court, Rifkin asked one of the women: "Did your claim for sexual harassment against the Black & Decker respondents result in a settlement?"

She responded "yes" and said she received $63,000 from the company. When asked if there was a confidentiality agreement in the November 1998 settlement, she responded, "I believe there is. To protect the company's interests. To protect our interests."

The other woman said in a July 1998 deposition that she settled her sexual harassment claim against Black & Decker around Thanksgiving 1998.

"Was there anything in the settlement agreement that obligated you to testify on behalf of Black & Decker in this matter?" Rifkin asked her.

"Yes," she replied. "I agreed to participate in any investigation that may come up, that I may have knowledge of [and] I would voluntarily participate."

Court documents do not reveal the party or parties at Black & Decker who allegedly committed the harassment or what the specific allegations were.

Black & Decker attorney John E. McCann Jr. declined yesterday to discuss any aspect of the case. "We believe the issue should be addressed in the courts, and it will be," he said.

Rifkin, who also declined to comment yesterday, said during one of the depositions that the women's testimony in the coming trial -- scheduled to begin Nov. 15 -- would be tainted.

"The nature of any settlement that may have placed monies in her hands, for whatever reason, and her motivation to testify are highly relevant in any court at any time," he said.

Rifkin also filed a motion requesting all documents relating to the two women's claims.

Black & Decker objected, claiming the request was "overly broad, unduly burdensome, and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence in this case."

Because of the protective order, it is unclear how or whether that issue was resolved.

Mary R. Craig, The Sun's attorney, argued in her motion that the protective order infringed on the newspaper's and the public's First Amendment rights.

Furthermore, the court record did not explain the grounds for the protective order, she wrote, and the order was so broad that it permitted "Black & Decker to designate virtually all discovery material as confidential regardless of whether secrecy is necessary to protect higher values."

Image Dynamics, founded by Phyllis B. Brotman, is suing Olsen and Black & Decker for $1.5 million each. Black & Decker was one of the principal clients of Image Dynamics for eight years and represented a third of its business, according to the suit.

On Dec. 12, 1996, Black & Decker ended its relationship with Image Dynamics. Brotman then fired Olsen because there was no longer work for him to perform.

The next month, he established the firm Market Builders and began doing work for Black & Decker.

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