The Observer has won its court fight to make documents in the divorce case of NASCAR chairman Brian France open to the public.
Lawyers for France had argued that the proceedings should largely be closed to the public and the couple’s divorce agreement kept sealed.
The Observer and WCNC had filed a motion for the documents to be unsealed, arguing that France has no compelling interest that supersedes the public’s right to open courts and files.
The N.C. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the news organizations, mandating that the file be open.
Observer Editor Rick Thames said the court system draws much of its credibility from being open.
“Our main point all along is that our courts are open for a reason and we should not be making an exception in an individual case like this,” Thames said.
A trial judge previously permitted the parties to redact private account numbers. Otherwise, the entire file is scheduled to be made public Wednesday.
France is the prominent head of a sprawling motorsports enterprise that has a cluster of motorsports teams based in the Charlotte region and the NASCAR Hall of Fame uptown. He took over the NASCAR chairman role from his father, Bill France Jr., in 2003.
Between 2001 and 2008, Brian and Megan France got married, got divorced, got married again, and got divorced again.
The divorce agreement that was signed after their second divorce stipulates not only the money owed to Megan France but also custody terms for their young twins and provisions about their upbringing, including that they be raised in Mecklenburg County, according to filings by Megan France’s lawyers.
The agreement also required that if Brian or Megan ever sued the other, they would use their “best efforts” to ensure that the divorce agreement was not made public.
The case began in 2008, when Brian France won a ruling from Mecklenburg Judge Todd Owens, who granted him the right to file a sealed lawsuit against Megan accusing her of breaching the divorce agreement’s confidentiality clause.
Judge Owens placed the entire complaint under seal – an unusual move in a court system that typically allows widespread access to courtrooms and documents.
Another Mecklenburg judge, Jena Culler, later overturned Owens’ order, ruling that the documents be unsealed. In January, the N.C. Court of Appeals upheld that order.
The 2008 separation agreement stipulated that Brian France pay Megan France $9 million, alimony of $32,000 a month for 10 years and $10,000 a month in child support, according to statements previously made by lawyers in open court.