The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette have moved to intervene in the appeal of a Beaufort County judge's decision to seal records related to Coral Resorts, a Hilton Head Island timeshare company facing more than 25 lawsuits from disgruntled owners.
An attorney for the newspapers filed a motion Tuesday to challenge the company's attempt to seal an appeal of an order by 14th Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen. The order closed documents related to the company that were originally public, court records show.
Attorneys for timeshare owners appealed her decision, arguing the sealed documents are public records and might prove the company broke the law, according to court records.
Coral Resorts subsequently moved to seal at least a part of the appeal, according to S.C. Court of Appeals records. The court has tentatively removed the case from the public record.
When a motion is made to seal, the case is "treated as if sealed until the motion is heard," S.C. Court of Appeals clerk of court Jenny Kitchings has said.
The newspapers argue the case is public record and should not be sealed, especially since the motion to seal hasn't been heard.
"There is no such thing as a secret court in South Carolina," said Jay Bender, an attorney for the newspapers.
Coral Resorts' officials say the sealed documents include trade secrets and proprietary information about the company, which operates Port O'Call at Shipyard Plantation, Island Links, Coral Sands and Coral Reef resorts.
"We are disappointed that the newspaper is spending resources in this manner," said Nekki Shutt, an attorney for the company.
"The sealed records have nothing to do with the pending litigation ... It's a lawyer's job to keep private documents like these out of the public domain and to protect their privacy," she wrote in an emailed statement Tuesday.
Attorneys for the owners of the timeshares disagree.
"All of this information is public record," Hilton Head attorney Zach Naert wrote in an emailed statement Tuesday.
The company is trying to make the documents "private and unavailable to the public after they were distributed to the public," he said.
A date to hear the newspapers' motion has not been set, according to Bender.
Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.