Media lose appeal for access to Lewinsky proceedings, documents
D.C. CIRCUIT–In early May, a federal appeals panel in Washington, D.C., unanimously affirmed a district court decision denying the media access to court proceedings and documents related to the grand jury’s investigation of the Monica Lewinsky matter.
The three-judge panel held that the news media do not have a First Amendment right to cover grand jury proceedings, which traditionally operate in secrecy. According to the panel, recognizing a First Amendment right to attend “ancillary” proceedings would “create enormous practical problems in judicial administration.”
The panel noted that releasing redacted transcripts was a possible way to keep the public informed about the proceedings, but it did not order federal judge Norma Holloway Johnson, who is presiding over the grand jury investigation, to do so.
The court did direct Johnson to reconsider her refusal to release redacted transcripts of a hearing discussing whether Francis Carter, Lewinsky’s first attorney, could invoke the attorney-client privilege in order to avoid testifying before the grand jury. The court also ordered Johnson to make public a docket of scheduled proceedings and filed documents to enable the news media to challenge secrecy.
In early March, the press sought access to numerous proceedings and documents related to President Clinton’s quest to invoke executive privilege and his motion to show cause against Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr for allegedly leaking secret grand jury information to the news media. The press also asked the court to establish procedures relating to public access to proceedings and records generally.
The media groups involved in the appeal included the Los Angeles Times, ABC, The Associated Press, CNN, CBS, Fox News Network, NBC, The New York Times, Time, USA Today and The Washington Post.
On the same day the appellate court released its decision, Johnson released her ruling on the White House’s claims of executive privilege. The court reportedly denied Clinton’s request, but the decision was sealed and never released publicly. (In re: Motions of Dow Jones & Co.; Media Counsel: Theodore Boutrous, Jr., Washington, D.C.)