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Lawyers for Colgan Air and the other defendants in the last three lawsuits in the fatal crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 were in state court Thursday seeking to seal some documents in the case that they say contain confidential material.

After listening to their arguments, State Supreme Court Justice Frederick J. Marshall said he will appoint a referee to hear any motions to seal.

Attorneys for the three families whose loved ones were among the 50 people killed in the Feb. 12, 2009, plane crash in Clarence Center opposed the motion. They said the defendants did not follow proper procedure in seeking to file the unspecified documents under seal and did not show why they should be sealed.

One of the families’ attorneys, Terrence M. Connors, said a plane crash that claims the lives of 50 people requires open documents. He contended that the deadly crash ranks with the assassination of President William McKinley as a historic event in Western New York.

Neal A. Goldberg, an attorney for the defendants, accused Connors of rhetorical grandstanding. He said the time will come when “we will respond to attempts by counsel to vilify” the defendants.

The judge said he has as many as 12 motions before him for summary judgment in the cases, which have been tentatively set for a jury trial Aug. 11. As a result, he will appoint a referee to handle any sealing motions.

Philipp L. Rimmler, attorney for the family of Douglas C. Wielinski, who died when the plane crashed into his home, said some of the documents that the defendants seek to seal are public record.

Rimmler said the defendants have presented no justification for sealing them. “They don’t want the information from the discovery process to see the light of day,” he said.

Goldberg, representing Colgan Air and Pinnacle Airlines, Colgan’s parent company, said an order the court issued in June 2011 set out the procedure for sealing documents, and the defendants followed it.

He was joined in his motion to seal the documents by attorneys for defendants Continental Airlines and FlightSafety International, a flight school based at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. FlightSafety International, like The Buffalo News, is a Berkshire Hathaway company.

The lawsuits accuse FlightSafety International of “negligence, recklessness and dereliction of duty” in its training of pilot Marvin D. Renslow and co-pilot Rebecca L. Shaw. Pilot error was blamed for the crash.

email: jstaas@buffnews.com