MANHATTAN (CN) – Shining a light on the consensual affair between a pair of government prosecutors, a federal judge ruled that their privacy rights are outweighed by the interest in public accountability.
Though details about the case remain under wraps for now, the Monday ruling from U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick notes that the affair was substantiated by Chicago-based investigators for the Office of the Inspector General.
In inviting the OIG to begin a probe, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys noted that it had received reports that an affair between a U.S. attorney and an assistant U.S. attorney had created an “unbearable atmosphere” for fellow prosecutors.
“Indeed, the U.S. attorney resigned at the beginning of the investigation, perhaps because ‘he knew that EOUSA would have asked for his resignation if they discovered the affair,’” Broderick wrote, quoting from filings in the case.
Newshounds at Buzzfeed demanded more information about the investigation after the OIG published a summary online in May 2017 titled “Findings of Misconduct by a Former United States Attorney for Having an Inappropriate Relationship with a Subordinate.”
When the OIG replied with a redaction-heavy copy of the report, the website brought the suit here in New York, alleging violations of the Freedom of Information Act.
On Monday, Judge Broderick conceded that the two prosecutors who had the affair “undoubtedly have an interest in keeping the facts of their improper relationship from the public eye and in avoiding disclosure of their identities to prevent embarrassment.”
He awarded partial summary judgment to Buzzfeed, however, after concluding that the public interest outweighs any desires for anonymity.
“Without knowing the officials’ identities, plaintiff contends the public cannot be sure which individuals were bad actors, in which U.S. Attorney’s Office they worked, who filled the U.S. attorney’s seat after his resignation, how the office addressed the reported toxic culture, or if the U.S. attorney has since served in another government position about which the public would have an interest in knowing,” Broderick wrote. “Thus, I find that there is a significant public interest in revealing the officials’ identifying information.”
The Department of Justice has until April 12 to file the report without redactions. Representatives for the agency did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Buzzfeed had also sought access to information from report that referenced a third individual involved with alleged inappropriate conduct from the U.S. Attorneys.
Because the OIG had not substantiated those allegations, however, Broderick found that the name of this party must remain redacted.