by Max Brantley
Looks like Wal-Mart will pay thieving former executive Tom Coughlin some money to go away, but perhaps not as much as he claimed. In keeping with Benton County circuit courts' penchant for doing the public's business in private, the settlement, though read into the record, was put under seal. The Supreme Court of Arkansas is pretty clear -- if you want the people's court to decide matters for you and enforce settlements, it should be done where the public can judge the work of its elected and publicly paid officials. That doesn't seem to have sunk in in Waltonville, however.
The Morning News account indicates Judge Jay Finch ordered reporters out of the courtroom on the ground that it was a meeting room where parties were discussing settlement. But the minute the judge and a court reporter sat down to have an agreement entered into the record, I'd think court was in session. Absent a compelling reason not apparent here, the session should have been open.