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Sherwood Seeks Seal for Evidence

The attorney for Cynthia Mirella Ore, the Maryland woman who has filed a $5.5 million civil lawsuit against Rep. Don Sherwood (R-Pa.) for assault and battery, will vigorously oppose a motion by Sherwood to keep evidence collected in the case secret until the trial begins next year.

Patrick Regan, Ore’s lawyer, blasted Sherwood’s motion, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia last Friday, as “ridiculous,” and said it amounted to an attempt by the Pennsylvania Republican to contain any political fallout from the case by limiting what the press and public can find out.

“There’s no reason that [Sherwood] should be given any special treatment,” said Regan, a partner in the firm Regan, Halperin & Long. “Sherwood doesn’t want his constituents to know what he was doing.”

Ore has alleged that she and Sherwood, who is married and has four daughters, had a sexual relationship that lasted for roughly five years. During the time, Ore alleges, Sherwood assaulted and abused her. Sherwood has admitted to the affair with Ore but has denied the allegations of physical abuse.

Bobby Burchfield, Sherwood’s lawyer, filed the motion seeking a confidentiality order on Sept. 23. Burchfield argued that materials or information obtained in the discovery phase of the lawsuit should remain private due to the sensitive personal nature of the suit, which centers on the relationship between Ore and Sherwood.

“Any information garnered in the discovery phase of this litigation is sure to garner significant public attention,” Burchfield wrote. “Moreover, much of the information is likely to be irrelevant, unreliable and legally objectionable. In view of these factors, there is no reason, under the First Amendment or otherwise, to grant unlimited access to such pretrial information to the public.”

Burchfield also argued that “disclosure of pretrial discovery motions also threatens irreparable harm to [Sherwood’s] personal and professional life.”

Burchfield’s confidentiality request was first reported by the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader.

The relationship between Ore and Sherwood ended on Sept. 15, 2004, when police were called to Sherwood’s apartment in Washington, D.C. Ore had dialed 911 from the bathroom in his apartment and reported that Sherwood had choked her for no reason. Both Ore and Sherwood acknowledged that he had been giving her a back rub, but Sherwood said Ore then ran into the bathroom unexpectedly.

The police investigated Ore’s claims of a physical altercation but no charges were filed against Sherwood. A police report filed at the time found Ore had no physical evidence of injury but added that she “did not seem to be of sound mind.” The report also states that “both parties have left out significant information or are not willing to discuss in detail what actually happened.” Both the D.C. Metropolitan Police and the Capitol Police investigated Ore’s allegations.

Sherwood has vehemently denied Ore’s accusations, and he called the lawsuit a “baseless and malicious” attempt to get money from him.

Sherwood has also denied that he received any special treatment from the police officers who looked into Ore’s complaint, although Regan has alleged that he did.

The two sides have begun private mediation efforts, as required by law in such cases, although it is unclear at this time whether a settlement will be reached.

While the trial is not expected to start until next May, Ore and her attorneys are seeking copies of Sherwood’s medical records, credit card statements and mobile phone bills, as well as other information.

Ore’s attorney also wants to depose Sherwood under oath — an interview that will almost certainly be videotaped. Sherwood’s legal advisers fear that such a tape could be used in campaign ads against the four-term lawmaker. Sherwood will soon file a motion challenging the need for any videotaped deposition, arguing that it is not necessary and could be leaked to the press.

Under the procedure used in civil lawsuits, federal judges may issue protective orders to seal discovery materials “which justice requires to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression or undue burden or expense.”

According to Burchfield’s motion, “The nature of the allegations in this case presages efforts to inquire into intimate details of the parties’ personal lives; much of this information will not be properly discoverable, and if allowed, much of this discovery will not be admissible at trial.”

Burchfield is also trying to prevent the public disclosure of Sherwood’s personal financial information, and is arguing that because of Sherwood’s “status as a United States Congressman, release of his mobile telephone records may raise unique security issues. Defendant conducts both personal and official government business on his mobile phone. Such records are generally not available to the public and should not be publicly disclosed in pretrial discovery.”

Burchfield cited several civil cases, including the lawsuit brought by Paula Jones against former President Bill Clinton, in which protective orders were issued to limit pretrial publicity.

Burchfield’s motion also included a not-so-subtle warning that Sherwood is prepared to play tough with Ore.

“Likewise, because Plaintiff is claiming damages for alleged physical and emotional injuries, her medical and psychiatric records are subject to discovery in this litigation,” Burchfield wrote, suggesting that Ore would benefit from a confidentiality order as well. “Although counsel for Plaintiff has expressed a desire to preserve the confidentiality of Plaintiff’s medical records, Plaintiff is, nevertheless, resisting entry of a confidentiality order.”

Regan, Ore’s lawyer, said his client had nothing to hide, and he criticized Sherwood for attempting to hide behind a privacy shield in order to protect his political career.

“What is [Sherwood] trying to hide?” Regan asked. “His privacy rights are not different from anybody else’s.”