KNOXVILLE, Tenn, (March 25, 2010)—Seven photographs allegedly shot by two engineers on trial for corporate espionage against Goodyear will remain sealed from the public, and jurors are barred from discussing the photos outside of court, a Knoxville federal magistrate judge has ruled.
The U.S. District Attorney's Office in Knoxville argued the photographs of Goodyear's proprietary “Swab Down System” to wrap rubber around a cable constitute confidential and trade secret information, and are thus protected under federal law. Goodyear is not involved in this case.
But attorneys representing the defendants, former Wyko Tire Technology Inc. engineers Clark Roberts and Sean Howley, claimed an order to seal the photos was both unwarranted and unconstitutional. It is up to the jury to decide whether the photos constitute trade secrets, they argued, and to rule that they do before the trial even begins violates the defendants' rights to due process. At least the court should hold a pre-trial hearing or mini-trial to determine whether the photos contain trade secrets, they said.
In his March 17 ruling, Judge Clifford Shirley agreed straight down the line with the district attorneys. The law contains no provisions for a mini-trial to determine whether evidence constitutes a trade secret, and no guidelines for determining that, he said.
“If Congress had so envisioned such a pretrial contested hearing, it could have, should have, and arguably would have provided statutory language indicating so,” Shirley wrote.
Protecting the photos as trade secrets won't abrogate the defendants' due process rights because all testimony will be given in open court, and the defendants will maintain their rights to an impartial jury and to confront witnesses, according to Shirley.
In any case, the government is right to argue that Goodyear's right to protect its trade secrets supersedes all other considerations in this case, Shirley said.
“The general public is less likely to be concerned with the specific details and precise nature of what the alleged trade secrets actually consist of, whereas Goodyear's competitors would be vitally interested in exactly that,” he wrote.
Roberts and Howley are accused of entering Goodyear's Topeka, Kan., plant in May 2007 under false pretenses and taking photographs of the Swab-Down System there to build an identical machine for a customer in China. They face one count of conspiracy to steal trade secrets, seven counts of theft of trade secrets, three counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The Knoxville News-Sentinel reported that the judge's ruling prompted an appeal by Roberts and Howley's attorneys and a resulting delay in the commencement of the trial. The attorneys could not immediately be reached for confirmation or comment.