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Judge Champions Public Access in Order to Unseal

WASHINGTON (CN) - Explaining that public access to judicial records is paramount to democracy, a federal judge unsealed a failed whistle-blower case against Fannie Mae.

"Indeed, the public's interest in the disclosure of documents in this case is particularly strong given that the case implicates improprieties with taxpayer money by one of the largest entities in the mortgage and financial services industry in the wake of the 2008 housing crisis," U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly wrote.

Former Fannie Mae employee Sanjay Groover had filed the False Claims Act suit under seal in 2011.

The case alleged that Groover's co-workers "had conspired to purposefully undervalue property assets, transfer the property to private ownership, and then personally profit from reselling the properties, at the expense of the United States Treasury," Kollar-Kotelly summarized.

While the federal government investigated the claims, Groover moved earlier this year for a voluntary dismissal and asked that the complaint remain seal to protect his future career and reputation.

Though seemingly sympathetic with Groover's wish to protect his future, the judge ruled that public access, especially in the interest of False Claims Act violations, are more important than a plaintiff's future employability.

"Indeed, FCA cases are sealed to allow the United States time to investigate the allegations; '[t]he FCA does not contain language that suggests the purpose of sealing a case is to protect the relator's identity,'" the 11-page opinion states. "In bringing the present case, the Relator clearly concluded that these risks to his reputation and career were worth taking," states the judge in the ruling.

Kollar-Kotelly ordered the complaint and voluntary dismissal unsealed last week along with the government's notice of consent to dismissal. All other filings will remain under seal.

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