In a test of First Amendment rights, Judge David Canales of Texas’ 73rd District Court in Bexar County will hear arguments on October 11th as to whether key exhibits in the ongoing Title Source (now Amrock) v. HouseCanary trade secrets case should be accessible to the public or retroactively sealed. The exhibits may contain critical information as it relates to the merits of the case.
Does this sound eerily familiar – and raise questions surrounding potential violations of First Amendment protections? It should.
In 2018, after receiving a favorable $740 million verdict, real estate analytics company HouseCanary filed a post-trial motion to seal key exhibits in the case that contained their purported trade secrets. However, the exhibits were shared in open court, and as legal experts have argued, “Once a secret is told, it is no longer a secret.”
After initially determining that information presented in open court should remain public, Judge Canales reversed his decision in June 2018 and allowed several items to be sealed from public view.
However, in July 2019, the Texas Fourth Court of Appeals overturned his ruling, a decision that was affirmed by the Texas Supreme Court in May 2021. In their decision upholding the appellate court’s ruling, the state’s high court agreed HouseCanary failed to adhere to sealing protocols as laid out in Texas Rule of Civil Procedure. Now, Judge Canales has another chance to protect the media and public’s access to critical legal documents.
The Houston Forward Times has closely followed this case, including joining with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to serve as media interveners, to advocate for open access to court documents and the public’s right to know. The First Amendment serves as a cornerstone of liberty, and it must be protected with vigilance.