Lawyers to edit Melaleuca case

From the Post Register

REXBURG — District Court Judge Brent Moss said Monday that attorneys in a disputed civil case involving Melaleuca Inc. and a former employee will get the first crack at deciding what the public should and should not know.

Moss did not directly address Melaleuca’s request that documents in its suit against Jeff Wasden, the company’s former vice president of marketing, be sealed and the courtroom be closed to the public.

The Post Register has challenged that request.

But Moss did say that Melaleuca attorney Curt Thomsen and Wasden’s lawyer, Ron Swafford, need to determine what proprietary business records or trade secrets should not be part of the public domain.

Once agreed upon, those records would be covered under a protection order that prevents Wasden from talking publicly about the case.

“That’s why the protection order is in place,” Moss said.

This debate about closed records took place mainly behind closed doors Monday.

Moss spent roughly 30 minutes in his chambers with Thomsen, Swafford and Post Register attorney Steve Wright, attempting to hammer out a compromise on a case that has become increasingly public.

Melaleuca and its CEO, Frank VanderSloot, sued Wasden for allegedly violating a separation agreement and recruiting key employees.

Wasden denies this and in a counter claim accused Melaleuca of breach of contract and VanderSloot of defamation.

After each side disqualified one judge, District Court Judge Darren Simpson was handed the case. But he stepped down after Wasden filed court documents saying he could not get a fair trial because of VanderSloot’s support of Simpson during last year’s election.

Moss’ ruling Monday essentially slowed what has become a frantic paper war between lawyers on both sides of the dispute and the Post Register.

In asking the court to seal all documents pertaining to the case, Thomsen wrote that, “The Post Register has failed to demonstrate any colorable interest it may have in a private employment dispute between Melaleuca and one of its former employees, that exceeds the general curiosity of anyone else in the community, beyond the unusual but well-known and long-standing acrimony the Post Register has nurtured against Frank L. VanderSloot.”

But in a brief filed Monday morning, Wright wrote that Melaleuca’s legitimate trade secrets are entitled to protection and the Post Register has no interest in publishing them. That information could simply be redacted from the court file, Wright said.

Wright wrote that the possibility of trade secrets being revealed is not a reason to seal all documents in the case or to shut the public out of the courtroom.

“This sledge hammer approach is clearly unacceptable where the Constitution and the law require the use of a scalpel,” Wright wrote.

Wright said the newspaper would wait to see how broadly Swafford and Thomsen define “proprietary business records” and “trade secrets” before deciding upon a next step.

Moss made clear Monday that he plans to treat the dispute as just another case.

The disagreement between Melaleuca and Wasden — and the flap over Simpson and whether the court documents and proceedings should be sealed — has inspired several newspaper and television stories. It’s also caught the attention of political bloggers. And Melaleuca employees recently took out a two-page advertisement in the Post Register lauding the company.

“I don’t want this case tried in the newspaper or on the television screen,” Moss said.

VanderSloot, fresh off a trip to Cuba with a contingent of business leaders and Gov. Butch Otter, spent Monday morning in the plaintiff’s chair while his attorney met behind closed doors with the judge.

“Judge Moss stated today that he is going to handle this like any other case,” VanderSloot said in an e-mail Monday afternoon. “I think that is all that anyone could ask.”

Senior reporter Corey Taule can be reached at 542-6754.

”I don’t want this case tried in the newspaper or on the television screen.”

From the Post Register

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