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Judge slows Starr pursuit of book purchase records

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  1. Freedom of Information
Judge slows Starr pursuit of book purchase records 04/20/98 WASHINGTON, D.C.--A federal judge in early April ordered the Office of…

Judge slows Starr pursuit of book purchase records

04/20/98

WASHINGTON, D.C.–A federal judge in early April ordered the Office of the Independent Counsel to demonstrate that it has a compelling need for information about former White House intern Monica Lewinsky’s book purchases that it had subpoenaed from two Washington bookstores.

The counsel’s office subpoenaed “all documents and things referring or relating to any purchase by Monica Lewinsky” from a Barnes and Noble bookstore and Kramerbooks & afterwords, Inc., an independent bookstore and cafe. Both bookstores challenged the subpoenas.

Judge Norma Johnson held that records of bookstore customers’ purchases were protected by the First Amendment. She ordered Starr’s office to file a document describing its need for the materials sought by its subpoenas and the connection between the materials and the grand jury investigation of whether President Clinton obstructed justice by attempting to cover up an alleged extramarital affair with Lewinsky.

The stores argued that the subpoenas should be quashed because disclosure of information about their customers’ reading habits would chill the stores’ First Amendment right to distribute publications and customers’ First Amendment right to purchase reading material.

In addition, Kramerbooks told the court that many of its customers, influenced by reports that the bookstore intended to comply with the subpoena’s demand for records revealing Lewinsky’s choice of books, had informed store personnel that they did not intend to shop there anymore. Sales had declined, Kramerbooks told the court, and a group of librarians had picketed the store.

Pam Bethel, attorney for Kramerbooks, said that reports that the store planned to comply with the subpoena were inaccurate. She said the bookstore was uncertain at first about precisely what was being sought, and decided to ask the court to quash the subpoena after learning that the independent counsel was seeking a list of Lewinsky’s purchases.

“Once it became clear what they wanted, there was no question,” Bethel said. “They weren’t going to turn over that kind of stuff.” (In re Grand Jury Subpoena to Kramerbooks & afterwords, Inc.; Counsel: Pam Bethel, Washington; In re Grand Jury Subpoena to Barnes & Noble, Inc.; Counsel: Stephen Grafman, Washington)