Why do we allow rich and powerful people and corporations to pay off their victims in order to buy silence for their crimes or other wrongdoing? Many cases---too many---are settled with confidentiality agreements and frequently with sealing orders from the court at the request of the parties. The rationale for the secrecy and the court's imprimatur is the protection of the privacy of the litigants (usually the defendant) and the avoidance of embarrassment and injury to their reputation. The plaintiff most usually succumbs to the demand for secrecy in order to receive the proceeds of the settlement.
Yes, there is no doubt that disclosure of evidence of raping women, molesting children and the continued manufacture and marketing of products that kill and injure is very embarrassing and might well hurt the reputation (and business) of the wrongdoer---but shouldn't it? Some secrecy agreements serve a legitimate function, but too many serve to conceal information from the public, law enforcement and persons that have or may have similar claims.
The Cosby litigation is a perfect example. His deposition contains admissions that might serve as a basis for criminal prosecution and aid others who have similar claims. But he paid his alleged victim to conceal that information. I have no problem with keeping the financial terms of a settlement agreement confidential, but I suggest the condition of secrecy imposed by defendants in such cases might well constitute a crime. Is it not obstruction of justice when one pays a victim or a witness not to disclose important evidence of a crime?
And I raise even a more daring question: are the lawyers who demand secrecy as a condition of settlement in such cases complicit? An agreement to hide incriminating evidence seems so blatantly wrong, but unfortunately it seems more accepted than condemned. Maybe it's time for everyone involved to take a fresh look at the practice.