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Postal service ordered to release anthrax investigatory records

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information    

Postal service ordered to release anthrax investigatory records

  • A federal district court judge in Washington, D.C., ordered the U.S. Postal Service to release some documents relating to the 2001 anthrax attacks, and to reevaluate FOI Act exemptions it claimed for withholding other records.

Feb. 12, 2004 — A U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C., last month ordered the U.S. Postal Service to release certain records relating to the 2001 anthrax attacks, and to reassess and categorize all documents that should be exempt under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

In October 2001, public interest group Judicial Watch filed a FOI Act request for records relating to the discovery of anthrax at a Postal Service facility in Washington, D.C. The deadly biological agent was enclosed in a letter addressed to Senate minority leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and contaminated the facility. Two postal employees — Thomas Morris Jr., 55, and Joseph Curseen Jr., 47 — died of anthrax inhalation.

The Postal Service said that it did not receive Judicial Watch’s request due to mail service disruptions caused by the anthrax scare. However, after several additional requests were not responded to by the service, Judicial Watch filed suit in June 2002.

In October 2002, the service released more than 1200 pages but withheld close to 400.

Judge Henry Kennedy held Jan. 21 that the USPS must reevaluate and resubmit its explanations for withholding documents under FOI exemptions. He ordered the service to submit a “Vaughn Index” — a description of each document withheld or redacted and an explanation why — and to produce documents that do not fall under any exemption.

Kennedy ordered disclosure of all nonexempt documents by March 1, and the filing of the index no later than March 19.

“We’re pleased with the decision overall,” said Chris Farrell, Judicial Watch’s director of investigation and research. He added that it is likely “more documents will be produced . . . with much greater specificity.”

(Judicial Watch, Inc. v. United States Postal Service; Paul Orfanedes, Klayman & Associates, Washington, D.C.) AB


© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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