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Court affirms federal trial judge’s decision to unseal presentence report of convicted judge

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Court affirms federal trial judge's decision to unseal presentence report of convicted judge01/23/95 LOUISIANA -- A federal district judge was…


LOUISIANA — A federal district judge was correct to unseal a presentence report which disclosed that a Louisiana judge failed to timely file federal and state tax returns over an almost twelve-year period and owed $146,311.25 for 1981 through 1992, according to a mid-January, 3-0 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans (5th Cir.).

Hilry Huckaby III, currently a state district judge in Louisiana, plead guilty to one misdemeanor count for failing to file his 1987 tax return. Citizens in his home town of Shreveport were divided over his highly publicized prosecution, according to the Court of Appeals opinion. Some criticized the government for charging him with a misdemeanor instead of a felony, while others were convinced that he was prosecuted only because he is African- American.

In light of this controversy, the district court decided to include the presentence report in the court record to let people judge for themselves the grounds for prosecution. He then sentenced Huckaby to one year in jail and one year of supervised release, fined him $5,000 and instructed him to pay his 1987 taxes.

Huckaby appealed, arguing that the district court abused its discretion in disclosing the presentence report. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court had found specific compelling reasons for releasing the document, and so affirmed the decision to unseal the report.

The court of appeals commented that Huckaby had not alleged that any of the released material was inaccurate. The court also pointed out that it had already amended the district court’s order on privacy grounds to exclude material that would not shed light on the bases for prosecution.

The court concluded that the remaining material did not implicate privacy or confidentiality interests that would warrant nondisclosure. Because the district court had reasonably balanced the interest in showing the real basis for the prosecution against the need for confidentiality, the appeals court affirmed the decision. (United States v. Huckaby)

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