Essex Richards Team Wins Access to Court Records Case

A September 13 North Carolina Court of Appeals ruling unsealed the final key documents in a high profile Cumberland County civil case, ending two years of hard fought litigation.

The newly unsealed documents provided detailed allegations of sexual misconduct with teen boys by a politically prominent Fayetteville car dealer, Mike Lallier. The unsealed settlement agreement also revealed that he had paid $1.9 million to settle the case.

The case was sealed in its entirety in 2016, and Essex Richards represented The Fayetteville Observer in a two-year court battle to unseal the records while protecting the identities of the minor plaintiffs and their families. The trial court had sealed every document in the file, hiding from public view the names of the defendants, their lawyers, and the trial judge, the complaint explaining what the case was about,  and the orders sealing the file. The Court of Appeals in December 2018 reversed the trial court’s order denying the newspaper’s motion for access to the file and sent the case back to the trial court to determine if there was a basis for keeping the complaints and the settlement agreement sealed.

The trial court  in August ruled, over Lallier’s objections, that the entire file should be unsealed, redacted only to protect the names of the minor plaintiffs and their families. Lallier appealed that order and asked the Court of Appeals to keep the files sealed during the appeal.  The Court of Appeals on September 13 denied that request, and the redacted complaint and settlement agreement were made public that day.

Essex Richards partner Jon Buchan, lead counsel for the newspaper, was quoted in a Fayetteville Observer article about the recent ruling.

The Fayetteville Observer has fought hard to protect the public’s constitutional right to have court proceedings conducted in the open, ensuring that the public has confidence in our system of justice. This case demonstrates that this principle applies no matter who the parties are,” he said.

To read the full story from The Fayetteville Observer, click here.