The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV on Thursday asked a Fulton County judge to stop allowing the Atlanta Braves and Major League Baseball to seal records in ongoing litigation with the family of a man who fell to his death over a guardrail at Turner Field.
The lawsuit was filed by Laura Murrey, whose 60-year-old husband died Aug. 29, 2015. Greg Murrey had stood up in his second-row seat in the upper deck to boo New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez, but instead toppled over the first row seats and then over the 30-inch-high guardrail to the lower level about 40 feet below.
The suit contends the Braves and MLB knew the railing was unsafe because it was not high enough. The Braves and MLB deny the allegations.
In their motion, the AJC and WSB-TV are asking Fulton State Court Judge John Mather to hold an emergency hearing to ensure records are made public concerning previous injuries and safety concerns at the stadium.
“The public has an unassailable right to know whether there were certain risks to the public’s safety and whether the MLB, the Braves and other professional baseball teams were aware of such risks,” the motion said.
After the lawsuit was filed, lawyers for the Murrey family and attorneys for the Braves and MLB agreed to shield “highly confidential” information in the case from public view. In the ensuing months, the Braves and MLB designated thousands of records as “highly confidential,” and this has meant most motions in the case are heavily “redacted,” meaning passages are blacked out.
Because of all the blacked-out passages, it is “virtually impossible” to figure out arguments being made in various court filings, such as a recent one in which MLB sought to be dismissed from the case, the AJC and WSB-TV motion said.
In a court motion filed a few months ago, lawyers for the Murrey family said the Braves and MLB had gone too far. They contended that many of the Braves’ and MLB’s redactions were unjustified and improper and asked Mather to put a stop to it.
Early Thursday morning, just hours before the AJC and WSB-TV filed its motion, Mather issued an order in which he deferred taking action on the confidentiality issue. He said it was not a matter that required his attention at this stage of the litigation but said he may revisit the issue before the trial, which has been set for November of next year.
Mather has yet to address the motion filed by the AJC and WSB-TV.
The news media companies’ motion says Georgia’s highest courts have ruled repeatedly that open and public judicial proceedings, including access to records, are an integral part of democracy. It also says proper procedures, such as holding a hearing to determine what documents can and cannot be sealed, were not followed before the Braves and MLB were allowed to shield so many records from public view.
“The redacted and sealed portions of the judicial pleadings and records at issue bear directly on such fundamental issues as ballpark safety, management’s knowledge of safety issues and steps MLB and its teams are taking or could have taken to prevent future tragic deaths,” said the motion, written by Atlanta lawyers Cynthia Counts and Kenneth Franklin. “These are all matters of serious public concern, above and beyond the public’s ordinary and rightful interest in any judicial proceedings.”
The lawsuit, filed two years ago, has attracted national news coverage.
“One of the central issues in this case and for the public is whether professional baseball parks are safe places for fans watching the game from the upper deck,” the motion said. “Whether professional baseball provides safe environments for the millions of fans who attend games every year is an important issue to almost everyone, whether or not they are baseball fans.”