Judge unseals transcripts to closed hearings of El-Atriss

Secret Courts | Feature | June 13, 2003

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Judge unseals transcripts to closed hearings of El-Atriss

  • Records about man connected to September 11 terrorists could be released June 19.

June 13, 2003 -- Transcripts in the secret bail hearing of Mohammed El-Atriss, who admittedly sold fake driver's licenses to two of the September 11 hijackers, may soon be released to the public.

The June 3 ruling by Superior Court Judge Marilyn Clark in Paterson, N.J., would not go into effect until June 19, to give the defense time to appeal.

Six publications filed the motion for disclosure, originally asserting the right to a free press and access to public proceedings, said Louis Pashman, the attorney representing the media. Initially, defense counsel argued that releasing the transcripts could pose a security risk.

But that claim changed when no government agency opposed disclosure, Pashman said. At that point, defense counsel argued that allegations raised during the hearing would ruin El-Atriss' reputation.

According to The Associated Press, El-Atriss was given five years probation and fined $15,000 for selling false documents. He admitted to selling such documents to Khalid Almihdhar and Abdulaziz Alomari, who were, respectively, on the planes that crashed into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

The AP also reported that El-Atriss originally was considered so dangerous that his bail hearing was closed to the public and the transcripts were sealed. He never was charged with any offense suggesting a connection to the events of September 11.

When the records are made available to the public, everyone will have the opportunity to see what may have prompted the judge's decision to seal them, Pashman said.

Pashman said he believes the delay in opening the transcripts is appropriate. Otherwise, an effort to appeal would have been moot, he said. According to Pashman, merely filing an appeal by June 19 will not keep the documents sealed. The judge must receive a stay of disclosure by 11 p.m. that day.

(In re Release of Sealed Transcripts in the Matter of Mohammed M. El-Atriss; Media counsel: Louis Pashman, Pashman Stein P.C., Hackensack, N.J.) -- EH

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