Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Gag Order On Kids?

Can a corporation imposed a lifetime gag order on kids, even though the kids aren't old enough to agree to something like that.
The Hallowich family. Even the kids
here are subject to a gag order after
a lawsuit. Can the lawyers do that?  

Apparently, they can. 

Some landowners have sued gas companies over fracking, that practice of injected mass quantities of water and some chemicals to extract oil or gas from the shale or rocks way underground. The practice is controversial, as you have probably seen on the news.

In Pennsylvania, Chris and Stephanie Hallowich settled for $750,000 with gas and oil companies over problems related to fracking on and near their property.

Part of the settlement includes a provision that the couple not discuss the case or publicly disparage the oil and gas companies.

Those provisions are common in lawsuits, though I don't like such gag orders. If there are problems related to fracking, or anything else for that matter, the public doesn't know if there is a gag order,  and the offenders can say to investigators that there are no reports of problem. No public reports, at least. So things get covered up.

But that's not my big concern here. According to several published reports the Hallowich's kids, ages 7 and 10, are also subject to the gag order.  For the rest of their lives, they can't talk about this at all. This opens up a new front in corporate secrecy, which to me is scary.

According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

"Several independent legal scholars and attorneys involved in the Hallowich side of the case say they know of no other settlement agreements that gag the children of parents involved in legal settlements, and questioned whether such an agreement is enforceable."

Well, duh!  Kids 10 and under aren't exactly considered competent to sign adult contractual agreements, so how are they subject to gag orders like this?

And as Chris Hallowich noted in the court transcripts, what if one of the kids utters a "forbidden word" on the playground?

It's unclear what the forbidden words even are. The Post Gazette had to fight for the court transcript, which is normally a public record. And they didn't get the settlement agreement, and I think those are supposed to be public, too.

But during the settlement hearing, it was clear the lawyers wanted to shut the children up, according to the Post Gazette. One lawyer for a gas company said, "I guess our position is it does apply to the whole family. We would certainly enforce it."

Some of the parties to the lawsuit, maybe inspired by the potential for negative press, are backing off the claim that the gag order applies to the kids.

Let's hope so. I mean, what are you going to do? Throw a 12 year old in jail or sue him for a million dollars for saying on a playground, "Friggin' fracking!"

And what if these agreements become commonplace? What if there is a whole host of things kids are barred from talking about?

I hope there is an appeal to this case. It needs to be made clear that we can't impose legal contracts on kids without their consent.

Really, this is almost child abuse, if you ask me.

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