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Lawyers argue that records from late Sen. Heinz should stay sealed



Published: Sat, February 26, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Two newspapers want the records to be unsealed, 14 years after the man's death.

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Records pertaining to the estate of the late U.S. Sen. H. John Heinz III should remain sealed because information in the files could be used to violate the privacy and security of his widow, Teresa Heinz Kerry, and her family, attorneys said Friday.

Attorneys for the Heinz estate are fighting the efforts of two newspapers -- the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette -- to unseal the estate records, which likely contain the late senator's will, an inventory of his assets and other information, according to Friday's testimony.

They also questioned why the records should be opened nearly 14 years after the multimillionaire's death, especially when media interest has waned since John Kerry, Heinz Kerry's second husband, lost the presidential election.

Questionable interest

Estate attorney Gregory B. Jordan on Friday wondered why the newspapers are so interested in the records now, but didn't show much interest shortly after the senator died in a plane crash near Philadelphia in 1991.

The records were sealed during a public court hearing and newspaper advertisements notified the public of the hearing, Jordan said.

Yet, Pittsburgh newspapers chose not to attend the hearing or attended the hearing and chose not to write about the ruling, Jordan said.

"This is a case where the court should properly exercise the discretion to say, 'Enough is enough. Leave it alone,'" Jordan said.

Post-Gazette attorney Charlie Kelly countered that the public should have access to records that reflect the court process, regardless of how much time goes by.

"It was our courtroom and our records 14 years ago, just like it's our courtroom and our records right now," Kelly said.

The estate records contain details about the Heinz family's finances that could make them a crime target, Jordan said.

But Ron Barber, the attorney for the Tribune-Review, said it's unlikely that the court would release documents with unobscured bank account and Social Security numbers.

Newspapers involved

The Los Angeles Times and The Morning Call of Allentown, which are both owned by the Tribune Co., were the first to argue that the record was improperly sealed. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., which publishes The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, later joined the suit.

After the heir to the Heinz fortune died, Heinz Kerry took control of the family fortune, which some valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, but the Times estimated at $1 billion. She married Kerry in 1995.

The newspapers asked the court to unseal the records as they covered Kerry's presidential campaign.

But in December, every newspaper except the Tribune-Review and the Post-Gazette dropped out of the suit. The remaining two newspapers continued on because of the public's interest and the principle behind the suit, Kelly said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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