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Media try again for access to Moussaoui pleadings

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Media try again for access to Moussaoui pleadings

  • Major news organizations argue that a court order sealing the terror case documents violates the First Amendment.

April 4, 2003 — A group of news organizations filed a motion yesterday demanding access to documents filed under seal in the case against Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged Sept. 11 conspirator.

The motion, filed with the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, where Moussaoui is facing trial, said that the trial judge’s decision to place several defense and prosecution pleadings under seal over the last several months violated the First Amendment.

District Judge Leonie Brinkema ordered on September 27 that Moussaoui’s pleadings would be filed initially under seal but would be unsealed for public inspection if the government did not request sealing within 10 days of filing. According to yesterday’s brief, since the judge’s September order, only fourteen of Moussaoui’s forty-five pleadings have been unsealed. In addition, of the sixty-three other documents initially filed under seal — motions, responses, memoranda, transcripts and other documents — only four have been disclosed to the public.

News organizations are particularly interested in documents relating to Moussaoui’s alleged connection to Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a suspected member of Al Qaeda who was captured in Pakistan in October.

The news organizations said that “the continued preemptory sealing of nearly all pleadings filed in this Court, without notice to the public and an opportunity to be heard on their sealing, and without entry by the Court on the public record of findings justifying the complete sealing of specific pleadings, does not comport with controlling procedural and substantive precedent. As a result, it violates both the First Amendment and the common law.”

The brief was filed by ABC, Inc., The Associated Press, The Hearst Corporation, The New York Times Company, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Tribune Company and The Washington Post.

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

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© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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