Court orders release of attorney expense reports
TENNESSEE–Expense reports reflecting the total amount paid to defense attorneys and expert witnesses in connection with the defense of an indigent man must be disclosed, a state appellate court in Knoxville ruled in late February. However, detailed time sheets and itemized expense reports were properly sealed.
The appeals court said that there is a common law and First Amendment right to attend judicial proceedings and to examine the documents generated in those proceedings, and rejected the defendant’s argument that revelation of the documents would compromise his rights to attorney-client privilege, work product protection, or the effective assistance of counsel.
The appeals court said that documents that could disclose trial strategy would remain sealed, including detailed time and expense sheets and motions requesting funds for expert witnesses.
Thomas Dee Huskey was charged in 1992 with numerous crimes, including four murders. During Huskey’s capital trial in the Knox County Criminal Court, his appointed defense counsel submitted to the court under seal interim attorneys fees and expense claims.
In June 1997, The Knoxville News-Sentinel filed a motion in the circuit court in Knoxville seeking to inspect the sealed expense sheets. Judge Richard Baumgartner granted the newspaper’s motion, holding that disclosure of the judicial records would not endanger Huskey’s fair trial rights. Huskey appealed in August. His trial is stayed because the state Supreme Court is reviewing an appeal dealing with a court-ordered mental evaluation of Huskey.
The court noted that documents sealed by a state court are not subject to inspection under the Tennessee Public Records Act. (The Knoxville News-Sentinel v. Thomas Huskey; Media Counsel: Richard Hollow, Knoxville)