Judge seals documents in UND nickname case

Grand Forks, North Dakota (AP) 9-07

A judge has sealed all future documents in the University of North Dakota “Fighting Sioux” nickname lawsuit against the NCAA and delayed a hearing, hoping to aid settlement talks.

“Both parties have continued good faith negotiations with an eye toward settling the issues of this litigation amicably,” Northeast Central District Judge Lawrence Jahnke said in his order. “At such time as it appears to the court that settlement negotiations have reached an impasse and trial will be necessary, this order will be immediately rescinded.” Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, whose office is representing UND, said he opposes the move, and a media attorney questioned its scope.

The NCAA considers UND’s nickname and American Indian head logo “hostile and abusive” and has barred UND from displaying them during postseason play and from hosting playoff games. UND says it uses the nickname and logo with respect and has sued the NCAA. Trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 10.

Jahnke’s order says the NCAA concurs with his decision to seal future documents. Stenehjem said he opposes it because he is an advocate of open records.

“The judge nonetheless felt, in the interest of further possible settlement discussions, he would seal the record and we, of course, will comply,” Stenehjem said in a statement.

Jack McDonald, a Bismarck attorney who represents newspapers and broadcasters, said it is unusual for a judge to place a blanket seal on all documents filed in a court case. He compared Jahnke’s order to closing a courtroom.

“I don’t understand what the purpose of sealing everything would be,” he said. “A wholesale closure seems overly broad.”

Jahnke’s order also delays oral arguments on an NCAA motion to expand the scope of the case to include the role of Ralph Engelstad Arena in UND’s nickname debate and UND’s negotiations about the nickname with the state’s Sioux Indian tribes.

Those arguments were scheduled for Oct. 4 but now will take place at a previously scheduled pretrial conference Oct. 22. Jahnke said in his order that the delay also is designed to aid settlement talks.
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