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Burkle's Divorce Public, Court Says

A recently enacted state law allowing the billionaire to have his records sealed is unconstitutional, the appellate panel rules.

January 21, 2006|Peter Y. Hong | Times Staff Writer

Billionaire investor Ronald W. Burkle's divorce records must be opened to the public, a state appeals court ruled Friday.

The three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal said a recent state law that enabled Burkle to seal his records during a bitter divorce case with his wife, Janet, was unconstitutional. "Less restrictive means" than the statute are available to protect parties, the panel said, upholding an earlier Los Angeles Superior Court ruling.

The law, which supporters said was designed to prevent disclosure of sensitive financial information, was signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in June 2004. Lawyers for Burkle's wife, Janet, had said that the more than $140,000 in campaign contributions her husband gave to Schwarzenegger and the state Democratic Party may have played a role in its passage.

Burkle has denied any such role.

The Times and Associated Press, who joined Janet Burkle's appeal, argued that the statute could be used by litigants to avoid public scrutiny. The appeals court held the law violated the 1st Amendment.

Hillel Chodos, an attorney for Janet Burkle, said the ruling was important because "it is a bad idea for any litigant to have a case decided in secret."

Dennis Wasser, one of Ronald Burkle's attorneys, was unavailable for comment Friday.

Ronald Burkle, whose father once headed Stater Bros. supermarkets, bought and merged grocery chains including Ralphs Grocery Co. and Food 4 Less. He sold Ralphs in 1997.

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