(CN - Siemens and a monitor charged with keeping watch over the German conglomerate's compliance with a settlement agreement over federal corruption and bribery charges can fight to keep records of that agreement out of the hands of reporters, a federal judge ruled.
100Reporters - a press outlet with a self-proclaimed mission to "cover corruption of all sorts" - sued the Justice Department under the Freedom of Information Act this past summer, seeking records of Siemens' compliance with a 2008 settlement of violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Siemens pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a precedent-setting $1.6 billion penalty to U.S. and EU authorities to settle charges that it routinely used bribes and slush funds to secure massive public works contracts around the world.
Part of the settlement included four-year compliance monitoring by Dr. Theo Waigel, who was given broad access to Siemens' confidential and commercially sensitive information and records to make annual reports to the Justice Department.
The DOJ closed the compliance monitoring in 2012, determining that Siemens had "satisfied its obligations under the plea agreement."
After the Justice Department denied 100Reporters' request for compliance monitoring documents - including the four annual reports from Waigel - and the group sued, Siemens and Waigel demanded to get involved, citing the right of intervention.
For Siemens' part, the company argued that the reports contained confidential and proprietary information not fit for public consumption.
Waigel complained that his personal reputation - and the unfettered access of future compliance monitors - was on the line because he promised Siemens confidentiality while examining the company's records and delivering his reports to the Justice Department.
Both Siemens and Waigel have a legal interest in fighting 100Reporters' FOIA request, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras held in a 31-page ruling issued Wednesday. Specifically, Contreras dismissed 100Reporters' claims that Siemens, Waigel and the DOJ are all fighting from the same legal position.
"Requiring Siemens to monitor the DOJ's litigation posture from the sidelines until Siemens disagrees with a decision by the agency is inefficient and impractical; indeed, Siemens likely would have limited, if any, insight into the DOJ's strategy during the litigation, and once Siemens did learn of a hypothetical shift in the DOJ's position, such as a decision to release a specific category of materials, it might be too late for Siemens to undue any damage done," Contreras wrote.
Furthermore, not allowing Siemens and Waigel to intervene now - and forcing them to wait months or years until the Justice Department has done its withholding analysis - would put them both in danger of missing federal filing deadlines, the judge said.
The potential injury to Siemens if the documents are released is both "particularized and sufficiently imminent," Contreras wrote.
"It is not surprising, then, that 100Reporters cannot cite a single FOIA case in which a court denied on standing grounds the application of a prospective intervenor whose own confidential materials were the clear subject of the FOIA request," he added.
Contreras also rejected calls by 100Reporters to limit Siemens' involvement solely to FOIA exemption 4, which bars release of confidential and commercially sensitive information.
"A more functional and practical approach is required, and fatally, 100Reporters fails to offer any concrete or realistic consequences to this litigation from Siemens's (or Waigel's) intervention that might require the court to impose a limitation on the scope of the defenses that an intervenor may raise as this case, which still is in its infancy, proceeds to the merits," Contreras wrote. [Parentheses in ruling.]
The judge refused 100Reporters' claims that allowing Siemens and Waigel to get involved would unnecessarily delay the proceedings, advising the group in a footnote "raise such concerns then," if and when any delays occur.