(CN) - A federal judge in Manhattan decided to seal the settlement agreement over 18 wrongful death and property damage lawsuits stemming from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "Settlement negotiations could not have been resolved without an expectation of privacy," U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein wrote.
Judge Hellerstein oversaw 18 consolidated cases, filed by 82 Ground Zero businesses against more than 20 airlines, airports and security companies. The consolidated proceedings did not include any lawsuits against alleged terrorists or hijackers.
Hellerstein chose to use the discretion granted to district courts by the 2nd Circuit to "prevent access to settlement negotiations when necessary to encourage the amicable resolution of disputes," the ruling states.
The judge acknowledged that "there is a particularly acute public interest in all that goes on in the 9/11 cases," but said the resolution had been based on "an expectation of confidentiality."
"The 18 cases proposed to be settled are complicated and would require lengthy and expensive trials," Hellerstein wrote. "The exposure to the insurers representing the complex of airlines, airports and security companies are extraordinary, notwithstanding the substantiality of their defenses. The burdens on the district and appellate courts would also be substantial."
Eighty of the 82 plaintiffs supported the confidentiality agreement proposed by the defendants' insurance companies. There was no opposition, according to the judge.
But Hellerstein suggested that he would be flexible in potentially reviewing his ruling.
"I acknowledge that the scope and extent of confidentiality, measured against countervailing interests favoring full public accountability of courts and judges in relation to the cases and controversies before them, require delicate balancing," the judge wrote.
"Such balancing is best done when opposing interests present a clash of viewpoints to a judge asked to effect that balancing in a particular case or set of cases. I have not had the benefit of such a clash of interests to inform today's ruling," Hellerstein concluded.
"Accordingly, I reserve the right to review this ruling if, in the future, a motion for reconsideration is presented to me, either by parties to this litigation or other representatives of the public."
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