Rapper Boosie Badazz, formerly known as Lil Boosie, does not want his fans, or the general public for that matter, to know how much the city of Biloxi paid to settle a federal lawsuit with him.
Boosie, who is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, sued the city, Dillard’s department store, and Edgewater Mall security and management after a melee in the store during which he and his entourage said they were injured by a security guard’s overzealous use of pepper spray.
His lawsuit is still pending against Dillard’s, but the rapper reached a confidential settlement with the city, and mall security and management. His attorney has filed a motion to keep the terms of that settlement confidential.
There’s only one problem. Biloxi is a public entity subject to the Mississippi Public Records Act.
“Under Mississippi’s public records law, there is no question that this settlement document is available to the public.” said Leonard Van Slyke, a Jackson attorney who has over the years established legal precedents with public access victories in the Mississippi Supreme Court.
“The Mississippi Ethics Commission has specifically ruled on that point, given that taxpayer money is involved in the settlement.”
The city’s insurance company might pay the settlement proceeds, he said, but taxpayers are covering the insurance premiums.
The state Ethics Commission ruling was issued in a complaint WLBT-TV filed against the city of Jackson for failing to provide settlement agreements.
The commission found the city violated the state’s public records law when it denied WLBT’s request for settlement agreements protected by confidentially clauses.
Its order said, in part: “The settlement agreements sought by WLBT are clearly public records, regardless of whether these agreements contain a provision requiring confidentiality. The city was unable to identify any statutory or court decision specifically exempting these settlement agreements as confidential or privileged and not subject to the Public Records Act.
“Further, the Mississippi Supreme Court has noted, ‘public records which do not fall into a carefully defined exception provided by law are entirely open to access by the general public’.”
The Sun Herald filed a request April 19 with the city for the terms of the settlement, including the amount Biloxi agreed to pay Hatch.
As promised in settlement discussions, the city of Biloxi notified Boosie’s attorney of the records request. Attorney Eduardo Flechas of Jackson then filed the motion for a protective order in the case.
“It was part and parcel of the settlement that it was agreed that it would be kept confidential,” Flechas told the Sun Herald.
Flechas is asking that presiding U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden seal the court record to prevent public access.
In a response filed with the court, city of Biloxi attorney J. Henry Ros said all parties were warned of the city’s potential limitations regarding confidentiality. Ros also said the city is prepared to abide by any order the judge issues.
Flechas claims in the request for a protective order that the media company’s request was “overly broad,” seeking disclosure of settlement amounts reached with mall management and security.
The Sun Herald’s request was to the city, mentioning “Dillard’s et al” only as a means of identifying the lawsuit in which the records were requested because other lawsuits are pending against the city. The request did not mention either the mall management or security company.
Private parties routinely settle lawsuits on confidential terms and the public generally has no access to the terms of those settlements. A good example would be the settlements policyholders reached with their insurance companies in hundreds of lawsuits filed in federal court after Hurricane Katrina.
Ozerden has not yet ruled on Boosie’s request to have the record sealed.
In other cases, the Southern District’s federal judges have sealed records at the request of one party to a lawsuit when the other party does not disagree, regardless of whether the records are exempt from disclosure under federal or state records laws.