On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Cumberland County.
Petrella, A.m. Stein and Kestin.
The New Jersey Law Journal (the Law Journal) appeals from the April 1, 1991 denial of its application for the unsealing of
the settlement record between plaintiffs Ethan Zukerman, a minor at the time the settlement was approved, his father Robert Zukerman, individually, and as guardian ad litem, and various defendants.*fn1
On its appeal, the Law Journal argues that the trial Judge did not properly inquire into the showing made by the Zukermans or the need for secrecy and that there was insufficient justification for keeping the record sealed.
The underlying litigation was instituted in May 1980. Ethan Zukerman, almost three years old, sustained severe brain damage and neurological impairment as a result of a near drowning in a neighbor's swimming pool on February 28, 1977. The matter proceeded through a rather lengthy and complicated history. See our earlier opinion in Zukerman v. Piper Pools, Inc., 232 N.J. Super. 74, 556 A.2d 775 (App.Div.1989). The case ultimately culminated in a settlement some ten years after the litigation began.*fn2 Pursuant to R. 4:44-3, Zukerman moved for a "friendly" settlement proceeding to obtain judicial approval of the settlement because it involved an infant. He also sought an order requiring that all subsequent proceedings be held in camera and that the record of the settlement be sealed. His application was granted in all respects on December 27, 1990.
On February 28, 1991, the Law Journal applied for an order to show cause seeking to (1) vacate the order sealing the record of the settlement of the case; (2) require release of the transcript of the friendly settlement hearing and any exhibits
introduced into evidence; and (3) remove any restriction precluding counsel from discussing the terms of the settlement.
Aside from our earlier reported decision, the case apparently received publicity during jury selection in a Gloucester County Times article on December 12, 1990, which said that settlement offers ranging from $7.4 million to $9.1 million had previously been rejected.
Zukerman opposed the Law Journal's application based on his certification and that of Harry Curley, a former police officer in Zukerman's hometown of Vineland and its present mayor. Zukerman stated that he and his wife had requested that the settlement be sealed to preserve their privacy as well as that of their minor child. He now claims that despite the amount of the settlement being kept confidential, the family received various overtures from persons seeking to assist them in various investments and financial planning devices. ...