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Judge removes sealing order on all Moussaoui pleadings

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    NMU         VIRGINIA         Secret Courts         Sep 27, 2002    

Judge removes sealing order on all Moussaoui pleadings

  • Documents filed by the accused terrorist will no longer be categorically sealed.

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema granted a motion Sept. 27 filed by eight media organizations requesting access to accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui’s pleadings.

The media groups had challenged Brinkema’s Aug. 29 blanket order placing “any future pleadings filed by the defendant, pro se, containing threats, racial slurs, calls to action, or other irrelevant and inappropriate language” under seal.

“Sealing of records or portions thereof in criminal cases is justified only if such an accommodation is narrowly tailored to serve compelling interests,” Brinkema’s new order stated. Responding to prosecutors’ request to have the court clerk reject all inappropriate filings by Moussaoui, Brinkema said, “In our view, the United States’ proposal does not properly balance the defendant’s right to seek appropriate judicial relief against the public’s right to access records in criminal cases and the United States’ legitimate concerns about the defendant’s efforts to communicate with the outside world.”

While recognizing that the government had “legitimate” concerns regarding Moussaoui’s attempt to communicate with his “people” through court filings, Brinkema concluded that Moussaoui had “toned down his inappropriate rhetoric.” Therefore, “the administrative burden on the United States of identifying and redacting problematic language from the defendant’s pro se filings no longer justifies a total sealing of all the defendant’s pleadings,” she held.

Under Brinkema’s order, all of Moussaoui’s pleadings will be initially filed under seal. Within ten days after Moussaoui files his documents, the United States must “advise the Court in writing whether the pleading should remain under seal or be unsealed with or without redactions.”

If the United States fails to advise the court, Moussaoui’s pleadings will be unsealed for public inspection.

The news organizations to join the effort were The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, ABC Inc., The Associated Press, CBS Broadcasting Inc., Cable News Network, Tribune Company, USA Today and The Washington Post.

(U.S. v. Moussaoui; Media intervenors’ counsel: Jay Ward Brown, Levine Sullivan & Koch, Washington, D.C.) ST

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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