(CN) – The New York Times has not shown “good cause” to unseal wiretap applications in the investigation of a prostitution ring once patronized by former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the 2nd Circuit ruled Friday.
A three-judge panel in Manhattan overturned U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff’s order granting the Times access to sealed wiretap applications and orders in the Emperors Club investigation.
The 2nd Circuit also held that the newspaper does not have a First Amendment right to view the requested documents.
In March 2008, prosecutors charged four people with running the Emperors Club prostitution ring. When Spitzer was publicly identified as a client, he promptly resigned as governor.
The individuals charged in the investigation waived indictment and pleaded guilty.
Each wiretap application and order was placed under judicial seal and held by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan for safekeeping. Those documents would normally come to light during discovery, but they remained sealed, because the ring operators pleaded guilty without requesting or receiving discovery.
The Times asked to have them unsealed in December 2008, and the government agreed to release the search warrant applications, but not the wiretap materials.
Judge Rakoff ruled for the newspaper, saying the government could easily redact the names and identifying information of all Emperors Club clients.
But the appellate panel took a different view. It said the case hinged on Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, which allows disclose of wiretap applications only when a party shows “good cause.”
The court ruled a quarter-century ago that “good cause” could only be found when the party seeking to unseal wiretap applications was an “aggrieved person.”
Under this standard, the Times is not an aggrieved party, the court determined. The media’s interest in exposing the information does not outweigh the presumption against disclosure, Judge Jose Cabranes wrote.
Nor does the newspaper have a First Amendment right to access the wiretap materials, the court added.
“[T]he Times does not present a good reason why its preferred policy – monitoring the government’s use of wiretaps and potential prosecutions of public officials – is more compelling than Congress’s apparent concern for confidentiality and privacy, which are reflected in the text of Title III and in its legislative history,” Cabranes concluded.
Judges Winter and Hall participated in the decision.