Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, October 18, 2023


Page 1


Openness of Trial Proceedings Requires Disclosure of Settlement Amount—C.A.


By a MetNews Staff Writer



In this Sept. 12, 2019 file photo, Tiffany Li arrives at the courthouse in Redwood City.

Div. Five of the First District Court of Appeal declared yesterday that the amount of a settlement in favor of the minor children of a woman who allegedly participated in the slaying of the man who was their father and her husband may not be kept secret, rejecting the contention that revealing the amount could result in news coverage that would cause the minors, who are in China, to become aware of the circumstances of the father’s death.

The children, N.G. and V.G., through their guardian ad litem, asked the judge who approved the compromise of their claim that reference to the amount be sealed until the younger of the two reached the age of 18 in 2032. The amount had been redacted in publicly filed versions of the petition for approval.

At present, the children do not know of the murder trial or of the lawsuit.

San Mateo Superior Court Judge Danny Chou ordered that the amount be made public, but stayed his order pending resolution of the appeal. Justice Gordon B. Burns of Div. Five, in yesterday’s unpublished opinion, said the stay will be dissolved when the remittitur is issued (on Dec. 18).

Acquitted of Murder

The mother, heiress Tiffany Li was found not guilty of murder by a jury in 2019. Colleen Kay Cudd, the mother of Li’s late husband, Keith Green, brought a wrongful death action against her in 2018.

It has been revealed that under a settlement, Cudd will receive $100,000 and $50,000 will go to the estate to cover expenses—but the children’s share has not been bared.

Burns recited that Li contends “that publicly disclosing the settlement amount would lead to a renewed media frenzy that would increase the risk that N.G. and V.G. would learn of their suit and, in turn, destabilize their relationship with Li and cause emotional harm.”

The justice said:

“Of course, the interest in protecting children from emotional harm may, in certain cases, justify limits on public access….However, there is no blanket rule of nondisclosure.”

Public Access

He went on to declare:

“[A] fact finder could reasonably infer from the evidence—as did the trial court here—that although the disclosure of the precise settlement amount and the trust instruments could be emotionally harmful to the minors, the showing remains insufficient to demonstrate a substantial probability of prejudice absent sealing that overrides or outweighs the interest in public access.”

Burns said of the right of access:

“California courts have long recognized a common law right of access to public documents, including court records….Under the common law right of access, court records are presumed to be open to the public unless they are specifically exempted by statute or by the court itself.”

He noted that following the California Supreme Court’s 1999 decision in NBC Subsidiary (KNBC-TV), Inc. v. Superior Court, “California courts… recognize a First Amendment right of public access to ordinary civil court proceedings and certain documents filed therein.”

Interest Not Outweighed

The justice commented:

“And although our state constitution recognizes a right to privacy in one’s financial information…, we do not agree with Li that the record compels a finding that the Minor Plaintiffs’ constitutional privacy rights outweigh the public’s right to access in this case.”

Burns added:

“[T]he policy favoring public access in this case appears particularly weighty….Because this case involves parties that are minors, California law requires judicial review of the settlement to protect the minors’ interests….Public access to a petition for approval of a minor’s compromise helps ensure the very scrutiny and public confidence that our Supreme Court described in NBC.”

The case is N.G. v. Li, A165477.


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