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Judge sets up filing procedure

The judge in a lawsuit against Home Shopping Network Inc. has set up a process attempting to reconcile the company's wish to protect the attorney-client privilege it claims with the Times' right to access.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Horace A. Andrews on Thursday granted the right of the Times to intervene in the case, but set up a more restrictive filing procedure for documents.

All documents will be filed first with the judge only, instead of in the clerk's office where they would be publicly available. Through an attorney, Times Publishing Co., the Times' parent, will receive notice of the filings, but initially will not receive the documents.

Any party objecting to the documents as containing privileged or otherwise confidential material will be able to object within five days, and those notices will also be served on Times Publishing.

A private hearing will be held and the judge will determine whether the documents should be made public _ in full or with certain information omitted _ or whether the filings should remain sealed.

In the lawsuit, former Home Shopping general counsel Allen P. Allweiss said he was fired in February over attempts to disclose a wide variety of financial improprieties at the company.

Allweiss' attorney, Robert W. Merkle, had previously argued for an open process but said Thursday he was willing to file some sealed pleadings in support of allegations in the complaint.

"I am encouraged that Judge Andrews seems to be taking quite seriously his responsibility to protect the public's interest in knowing about this case," said Paul Tash, executive editor of the Times.

"Indeed, with the mechanism now in place, it will fall heavily to Judge Andrews to protect that public interest, because none of the many parties can be counted on to do so," Tash said.

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