>GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) – A judge has refused to unseal documents in a lawsuit over the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname, saying lawyers were close to settling the case until they were spooked by news stories.
UND is challenging an NCAA ban on the nickname in postseason play. The NCAA has labeled the nickname hostile and abusive.
Judge Lawrence Jahnke ruled Monday that files should remain sealed until Nov. 5, when a pretrial conference is scheduled. The Forum Communications Co. had asked him to open the files immediately.
Jahnke said the two sides were set to meet Aug. 19 “to hopefully announce a settlement.” That changed after news stories on the nickname dispute appeared in North Dakota and elsewhere between July 13 and Aug. 19, the judge wrote.
“The net result of the continuing regurgitation of this divisiveness was that just days before August 19th, one of the parties withdrew from its earlier indication of a willingness to settle,” Jahnke wrote.
Forum attorney Mike Andrews argued earlier Monday that sealing documents to aid in a settlement is not enough reason to override the public right to view them.
Jahnke said it’s his duty to encourage lawyers to settle without the distractions of media coverage. The case already has cost more than $2 million in attorney fees and expenses, and could cost another $2 million if it goes to trial, he said.
“This case has, at this juncture, already become one of the more expensive in the history of this state,” Jahnke wrote.
Jahnke suggested that reporters stop focusing on the polarizing effect of the issue and include stories about UND’s “strong and continuing efforts at cultural diversity as well.”