Army will release records in court-martial transcript case

Christine Beckett | Freedom of Information | Feature | March 29, 2011

After being sued under the federal Freedom of Information Act, the U.S. Army has agreed to release unredacted copies of court-martial proceeding transcripts to Siobhan Esposito from the murder trial of her husband's alleged killer. The Army had previously cited privacy concerns of the military personnel involved in the trial when it initially redacted the names of witnesses, lawyers and the judge that participated in the court-martial of Staff Sgt. Alberto B. Martinez from the transcripts.

After initially filing an answer to Esposito's legal complaint on March 4, the Army approached Esposito's attorney, Eugene Fidell, to discuss settlement. After two days, the sides reached an agreement that was approved by a federal judge Monday.

"I have to assume the government concluded they were going to lose," Fidell said. "And I think they would have."

Esposito requested the transcript of the audio recordings of the trial of Martinez, who was acquitted of the murder charge in military court in 2008. Esposito's husband, Capt. Phillip T. Esposito, was killed in Tikrit, Iraq, in 2005 when a Claymore mine, a remote-control-operated explosive used by the U.S. military that shoots a pattern of steel balls when detonated, was placed on his office window. Martinez offered to plead guilty in 2006 in exchange for the prosecution not seeking the death penalty, but that request was denied.

Esposito requested the records because she said she wanted justice for her husband and she wanted to hold the Army responsible for failing to properly resolve her husband's case. In the denial of Esposito's request for the names of the military personnel involved in the case, the Army claimed that revealing the names would violate the personal privacy rights of the military personnel named in court, citing Exemption 6 of the FOIA. That exemption allows for the withholding of information that would "constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

The names that were redacted from the transcript for under Exemption 6's privacy protections had been previously said in open court and had been released by the Army in a press release prior to the trial. The Associated Press account of Martinez's acquittal includes names of witnesses and on-the-record comments from the chief prosecutor at Fort Bragg, N.C., where the trial took place.

Under the terms of the settlement, Esposito will receive $2,500 in attorneys fees recoupment. Esposito has not yet received the records, but Fidell expects them to arrive Tuesday or Wednesday.

"I hope this will cause the people who are responsible for responding to FOIA requests to take another look at the law," Fidell said. "People shouldn't have to litigate this. It's a shame Mrs. Esposito had to take [the Army] to court. It should have been resolved long before it came to this."