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Federal appeals panel orders release of more Foster photos

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         CALIFORNIA         Freedom of Information         Jun 13, 2002    

Federal appeals panel orders release of more Foster photos

  • Four more death scene photographs of the late Vince Foster must be released, an appeals panel ruled, agreeing with a lower court that the photos would not intrude upon the grief of survivors.

An attorney who has regularly contested the government’s conclusion that the late Vince Foster committed suicide can see four more pictures taken of Foster during the investigation of his death, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) ruled June 6.

Foster, White House counsel during the early part of the Clinton administration, was found dead of a gunshot wound in 1993 in Fort Marcy Park in northern Virginia. The government’s insistence that the fatal wound was self-inflicted has met resistance.

Freedom of Information Act requests for photographs taken at the scene were initially rebuffed by the government which, along with Foster’s family, have claimed that disclosure of the photographs would intrude upon the family’s privacy. However, more than 100 photographs have been released in the course of appeals and litigation.

Los Angeles attorney Allan Favish has continuously challenged the government’s claim that any privacy exemption protects the records despite the public’s interest in them. He will now receive three more photos because the appeals court says their disclosure would not intrude upon privacy, and a fourth, a picture of the gun, which the court said is probative of the public’s right to know.

Five remaining photographs are exempt, the court said, agreeing with the lower court that they are so explicit as to violate the privacy of survivors.

A split appeals panel in July 2000 rejected government affidavits that the nine photographs requested by Favish were so graphic that their disclosure would cause grief and held that a court must view the actual photographs and weigh the intrusion upon the family’s privacy likely to occur from disclosure against the public’s interest in disclosure. It sent the case back instructing the district judge to balance the interests after looking at the photographs.

The two-judge majority agreed then that privacy exemptions can protect survivors but said that the court must actually balance privacy intrusions with the public’s interests, not simply accept government affidavits that privacy intrusion would occur. A third judge filed a lengthy dissent deferring to the government, and he dissented from the more recent decision as well.

(Favish v. Office of the Independent Counsel; Allan Favish, Los Angeles) RD


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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