A federal judge has rejected a bid by companies connected to President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner to keep secret details in a pending lawsuit claiming that Maryland apartment complexes owned or managed by Kushner's companies collected illegal fees from tenants.
Two Kushner-linked firms caught up in the suit wanted to file details on their ownership structure with the court under seal, but in a ruling Friday U.S. District Court Judge James Bredar sided with five news organizations who urged that the businesses be required to provide those details on the public record.
"The Defendants are no doubt correct that the presence of the Kushner (and therefore Trump) families in this case has raised its profile and attracted significant, though perhaps not 'unprecedented,' media attention," Bredar wrote. "But increased public interest in a case does not, by itself, overcome the presumption of access. In fact, it would logically strengthen it, particularly when the interest is due to the presence of important public figures in the litigation."
Bredar, an appointee of President Barack Obama, ordered the limited liability companies in question to file details of their ownership and members on the public record within two weeks.
The class-action suit, filed in a local court in Baltimore in September, argues that Westminster Management and related firms charged excessive or improper late fees in violation of Maryland law. Some tenants were illegally threatened with eviction as a result of the fee-charging practices, the suit alleges.
The firms transferred the case to federal court on the grounds that some of the defendants are residents of other states. Bredar, however, said clarifying that issue requires him to know more about how the companies are structured.
An attorney for the companies, Cynthia Maskol, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the ruling.
Nathan Siegel, a lawyer for the news outlets who prevailed Friday, said he welcomed the judge's opinion.
“The decision recognized the important principle that the courts are open to the public, especially in cases involving major public figures," Siegel said in a statement.
The news organizations who protested the firms' attempt to file a secret pleading in the case were the Baltimore Sun, ProPublica, the Washington Post, WMAR-TV (Baltimore's ABC affiliate), and The Associated Press.