Appellate court overturns order disclosing Ickes documents
NEW YORK–The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York City (2d Cir.) ruled in mid-December that judicial documents could be withheld from the public because their disclosure would subject a law firm and attorney to anonymous and unsubstantiated accusations. The court also ruled that the documents would offer little valuable information due to the extensive redactions and could “cause confidential sources to be identified.”
The appellate court reversed in part a trial court’s order to disclose a court officer’s investigation into alleged corruption of a labor union. The law firm Meyer, Suozzi of Mineola opposed release of documents related to that firm’s representation of the union, which had been headed by attorney Harold Ickes, who went on to become President Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff in 1993.
New York Newsday intervened to unseal the investigator’s report after Ickes started working in the White House, arguing the investigation was a matter of public interest.
The appellate court found that the presumption of public access to the investigative documents was weak, because they have only a minimal relation to the court’s adjudicative functions. The court ruled that the trial court had abused its discretion by unsealing a portion of the document containing unsworn accusations.
The appellate court ordered the lower court to decide whether another portion of the document, which had only one redaction and which the court found contained “little unverifiable hearsay and no material that might be described as scandalous, unfounded or speculative,” should be unsealed or not. That portion contains basic descriptions of the law firm’s role as representative of the union and Ickes’ own description of the same. (U.S. v. Amodeo; Media Counsel: Robert Sack, New York)