Trump 2016 Campaign NDA Settlement Can’t Be Kept Secret, Judge Says

(Bloomberg) -- Former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign must disclose the amount of money it would pay to settle a long-running court fight with a former staffer over its nondisclosure agreements, if it wants to go ahead with the deal, a judge ruled.

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Lawyers for the Trump campaign and Jessica Denson reached a deal earlier this month to end the former worker’s challenge to the validity of agreements that staffers, volunteers, and contractors had to sign to work on Trump’s 2016 presidential bid.

It’s unclear if this latest development would affect that settlement becoming final — US District Judge Paul Gardephe gave the parties until Feb. 3 to tell him if they wanted to proceed.

One of Denson’s attorneys, David Bowles, declined to comment. Lawyers for the campaign did not immediately return requests for comment.

Under the settlement, the campaign agreed it would not enforce the nondisclosure and nondisparagement agreements going forward, and there was a financial component as well. Denson was set to receive an incentive fee for pursuing the case for years, and the campaign also would pay her lawyers’ fees. Those amounts were redacted in documents filed in court a few weeks ago.

In a brief order entered on Monday, Gardephe wrote that the parties had failed to show that the circumstances of this case met the standard for keeping information sealed. There’s a presumption of public access to court filings that judges rely on in their decision making. The only thing Gardephe would let them keep secret was a reference to a bank account number.

In a Jan. 13 letter arguing to keep the financial information sealed, Trump’s attorneys wrote that the settlement amounts were “confidential business information” and that disclosing them to the public “would have a deleterious effect on, among other things, the Campaign’s future ability to negotiate similar agreements.”

They said that the request was on behalf of all of the parties and that Denson and her lawyers had agreed to keep the information confidential.

Keeping the dollar amounts secret was a “core component” of the campaign’s willingness to reach a deal, his lawyers wrote.

Denson had filed the case as a potential class action covering anyone who signed the same nondisclosure and nondisparagement agreements that she did in order to work on Trump’s 2016 campaign. Denson had won an earlier, critical round of litigation, with Gardephe ruling that the language in those agreements was too vague, ill-defined and “unduly burdensome” to be enforceable.

Denson’s next step was to try to certify the case as a class action, and she was in the middle of litigating that with the Trump campaign when the two sides reached a deal. The settlement would involve having the judge certify a limited class for the purposes of defining who would be released from agreements they signed with the campaign. According to Denson’s lawyers, the campaign had identified at least 422 people who signed identical contracts.

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