Expert witnesses to be given gag order
Zoe Staff Report
Dolphin protection groups are crying foul at SeaWorld’s latest maneuver to prevent information about the circumstances surrounding the death of orca trainer Dawn Brancheau from being made public.
People close to the upcoming SeaWorld vs. OSHA hearing say that the judge is being pressured to sign a “Protective Order” that would effectively seal off the details of this high profile case forever.
The proceedings before Administrative Law Judge Ken S. Welsch, which were originally scheduled to begin today, February 14th, have been rescheduled to April 25. SeaWorld is contesting government citations issued in August, including a finding for the “Willful” act of knowingly placing its employees at risk, following an investigation into the tragic death of killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau.
SeaWorld has successfully managed to keep a cloak of secrecy around cases that involve employee injuries in the past, and they are expected to do everything they can to stop information reaching the public regarding the death of Brancheau a year ago.
A protective order would bar the public from participating in the hearing and seal all content, including expert witness testimony from both sides and the documentation and evidence describing the conditions in which the orcas are kept in captivity. Expert witnesses would be prohibited from discussing or writing anything about the case publicly, and none of this information could be used in any future investigation or litigation. All details would remain hidden forever.
Following the death of Dawn Brancheau, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited SeaWorld for placing profit above employee safety. The agency fined SeaWorld $75,000 (a mere slap-on-the-wrist to the multi-billion-dollar corporation) for the “Willful” act of knowingly placing its employees at risk. But the use of the term “Willful” opened the doors to further legal action by Dawn’s family and other people who have witnessed SeaWorld training policies in action. It has also encouraged a growing number of former SeaWorld employees to speak out about the culture of working with orcas and the secrecy that shrouds the marine mammal entertainment industry.
SeaWorld’s scramble to keep all evidence secret belies the marine circus’s assertions that “OSHA’s allegations in this citation are unsupported by any evidence.”
Animal protection organizations are encouraging people everywhere to let the federal government know that the court hearing should not be held in secret.
What you can do
Visit the United States Department of Labor on FaceBook and tell them what you think.
Also, post a message on Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis’s FaceBook page. Secretary Solis oversees OSHA. Ask the Honorable Secretary and the Department of Labor to ensure public access to the details of this case.
Here’s a sample letter, prepared by The Orca Project:
Most Honorable Secretary of Labor
Hilda L. Solis
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20210
Re: OSHA vs. SeaWorld Order
I respectfully request that you use whatever means within your power to allow the public to hear the details of the investigation into the tragic death of killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld of Florida on 24 February 2010.
It is anticipated that Administrative Law Judge Ken S. Welsch will be asked to sign a Protective Order for the hearing scheduled to begin 25 April 2011 in Orlando, Florida, effectively sealing all content and expert witness testimony, as well as descriptions of the suboptimal conditions associated with orca captivity. If successful, witnesses will be forever barred from discussing or writing anything about the case publicly, preventing any and all content from being used for future litigation or investigation, akin to the crippling of trainer John Sillick in 1987.
The family of the victim should be vindicated and the public has the right to know, as details of this case have a direct effect on the future of workplace safety at marine mammal parks.