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Court overturns denial of Foster suicide photos

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         NINTH CIRCUIT         Freedom of Information         Jul 20, 2000    

Court overturns denial of Foster suicide photos

  • Photos from the Vince Foster investigation were not shown to be exempt under the privacy exemption of the FOI Act.

The Office of Independent Counsel did not establish that 10 polaroid photographs of the face and body of the late Vincent Foster — including one that had appeared in Time Magazine and on ABC News — would be covered by the law enforcement privacy exemption to the Freedom of Information Act, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) ruled July 12.

The appeals panel’s decision to remand the case to the federal District Court in Los Angeles for a new decision differs from the holding by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., in 1999 that autopsy photographs of Foster are protected by the privacy exemption because disclosure would renew his family’s grief.

Foster, who was White House Deputy Counsel, died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds in 1993 in Fort Marcy Park in northern Virginia.

The three-judge panel in the more recent case was unanimous in holding that a picture of Foster’s hand with the gun must be released, but one judge dissented on the disposition of the remaining nine photos, which had not been previously released. He found that their disclosure would violate the privacy of the Foster family.

Attorney Allen J. Favish first requested more than 100 photographs from the Office of Independent Counsel that were cited in the record of the hearings related to the Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan and the Whitewater Corporation. Most of the photos had been published but he hoped to obtain higher quality photos than the published ones. The office denied his request saying that disclosure would interfere with enforcement proceedings but never explained how. When Favish sued, the office first responded simply that he was “not entitled” to the pictures, but later provided 118 photos at Favish’s expense.

In March 1998 the lower court balanced privacy interests of the family against the public’s interest in disclosure and ruled that the photos were protected by the law enforcement privacy exemption.

(Favish v. Office of Independent Counsel: Attorney: Allen Favish, pro se, Los Angeles) RD


© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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