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Secret Service search for Exner files ruled 'reasonable'

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

Secret Service search for Exner files ruled ‘reasonable’

  • U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan refused to order the Secret Service to conduct an additional and more complex search for records concerning Judith Campbell Exner after it found and provided an FOI requester with 26 pages from its files on the woman reputed to have been a mistress of president John F. Kennedy.

Sep. 23, 2004 — U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan last week denied a motion by an FOI Act requester to compel an additional in-depth FOI Act search by the U.S. Secret Service into its files on Judith Campbell Exner.

Author Ark Allen sued the Secret Service after his FOI request to that agency yielded few records on Exner.

Allen, who is writing a book about President John F. Kennedy, made a FOI Act request for Secret Service records relating to Judith Campbell Exner, a woman widely believed to have been Kennedy’s mistress.

The Secret Service produced 26 pages and Allen filed a lawsuit, alleging that the Secret Service’s search must have been inadequate under the FOI Act to have produced so few pages. He asked the U.S. District Court to order the Secret Service to conduct a more thorough search.

To determine whether it conducted an adequate search, the judge said the Secret Service “must show that it made a good faith effort to conduct a search for the requested records, using methods which can be reasonably expected to produce the information requested.”

The Secret Service presented affidavit testimony from two agency officials explaining that they searched one major digital records database, called the Master Central Index, into which all Secret Service files have purportedly been integrated.

Allen told the court that one database either was not a comprehensive source, or that it had not been sufficiently searched with variants of Exner’s name (using Judy, for instance), Allen showed that he conducted a subsequent, independent search at the National Archives and Records Administration, where he found an additional document that the Secret Services’ search ought to have uncovered.

Despite that evidence, Judge Sullivan held that the Secret Service’s search was reasonable and noted that its officials’ affidavits appeared to be in good faith. “[T]he fact that the plaintiff discovered one document that possibly should have been located by the Service does not render [the Service’s] search process unreasonable,” the judge wrote.

(Allen v. U.S. Secret Service) RL


© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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