Feds Can’t Keep Papers on Jailed Witness Darkened

     SEATTLE (CN) – Prosecutors must unseal documents relating to the jailing of a witness who refused to testify in the grand jury investigation of a violent Seattle May Day protest, the 9th Circuit ruled Friday.
     Matthew Duran was held in contempt and confined in September 2012 after declining to answer questions before a federal grand jury in the Western District of Washington. Prosecutors were investigating vandalism that occurred on May 1, including the smashing of federal courthouse windows.
     Duran was held in solitary confinement for five months before the district court deemed it unlikely that coercion would produce cooperation and released him.
     All court documents in the case were sealed, including the paper and electronic docket sheets.
     While Duran was in custody, The Stranger Newspaper, owned by Index Newspapers, moved to unseal transcripts and filings related to the contempt charge that were not covered by grand jury secrecy requirements.
     U.S. District Judge Richard Jones had partially granted the request, saying “the public has a right to the transcripts of the open portions of the hearings, but no more.”
     “As to the written material submitted to the court in connection with the contempt proceedings, they contain grand jury information, and they are not subject to the public right of access that applies to contempt hearings,” Jones added.
     A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit went further on Friday, saying all of the filings related Duran’s contempt file should be open to the public “unless the public’s right of access is overcome by a compelling government interest.”
     “The public’s interest in access to judicial filings related to the motion to unseal outweighs the government’s interest because these filings do not jeopardize grand jury secrecy in this case,” Judge Morgan Christen wrote for the majority. “There is no substantial probability that the government’s interest will be harmed by disclosure of the filings related to The Stranger’s motion to unseal.”
     On remand the District Court must order to unseal documents, including the docket for Duran’s contempt proceeding, the order holding him in contempt and ordering him confined, and filings related to his confinement status hearing and request for release.
     The panel did affirm the decision to keep sealed the documents related to Duran’s motion to quash, the transcript portion that discussed matters occurring before the grand jury and the motion to hold Duran in contempt.
     Uncle Sam has until Sept. 19 to suggest redactions to the appellate record, according to the ruling. No part of the file will be unsealed until the court rules on the request.

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