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High court denies access to information related to Linda Tripp indictment

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  1. Libel and Privacy
    NMU         MARYLAND   &

    NMU         MARYLAND         Privacy         Oct 4, 1999    

High court denies access to information related to Linda Tripp indictment

  • Maryland’s highest court finds that a state prosecutor does not have to release documents or identify witnesses used to indict Linda Tripp for violating wiretapping laws

Maryland’s highest appellate court in late September reversed a trial court’s ruling that a state prosecutor needed to release an index of documents and witnesses that he had used to indict Linda Tripp for violating state wiretapping laws when she recorded conversations with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Because the case was not brought in the court that supervised the grand jury that indicted Tripp, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court lacked the authority to require disclosure of the information. But the high court went on to note that even if the legal group Judicial Watch — the party requesting the documents — convinced the trial court to transfer the case to the proper county, the prosecutor had properly rejected the request for disclosure.

The rejection of the request was appropriate because Judicial Watch could not offer the “strong showing of a ‘particularized need'” necessary under the Maryland rule covering grand jury secrecy and because the state’s Public Information Act “does not trump or override the traditional rule of grand jury secrecy.”

The court reiterated a rule requiring that a party seeking information subject to grand jury secrecy must show that it needs the material to “avoid a possible injustice,” that the “need for disclosure is greater than the need for continued secrecy,” and that the “request is structured to cover only material so needed.” The court ruled that Judicial Watch — in part because it was “unrelated to any party in the criminal investigation”– could not make any of “the showings related to disclosure of grand jury files and records.”

The court also stated that Judicial Watch’s efforts to receive the prosecutor’s documents would fail even if Judicial Watch qualified for the more favorable treatment afforded a “person in interest” because the state prosecutor’s “records of investigations” fell under a criminal investigative exception.

The Baltimore County trial court had ordered the prosecutor to submit under seal to the court and Judicial Watch an index that “‘word for word, paper for paper’ identified all documents that are responsive to the PIA request” and “to describe each document with the same specificity required by discovery orders in civil cases.”

In February 1998, the state attorney for Howard County requested that a state prosecutor investigate Tripp’s “highly publicized tape recordings” of phone conversations between her and Lewinsky to see if Tripp had violated the state wiretap statute. The day after the prosecutor began his investigation, Judicial Watch filed a request with the prosecutor for all documents and information related to Tripp, Lewinsky, Starr, the White House and literary agent Lucianne Goldberg.

(Office of the State Prosecutor v. Judicial Watch, Inc.)

© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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