Time Can Pursue Records on Trump’s Undocumented Labor

MANHATTAN (CN) — Setting the stage for a follow-up article to the election-year bombshell on President Donald Trump’s employment of undocumented construction workers, the Second Circuit revived a bid by Time Magazine on Thursday to obtain documents that have been shrouded in secrecy for nearly two decades.

The dispute stems from the demolition of Bonwit Teller’s flagship department store that sat on the land now occupied by Trump Tower at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street.

In 1983, one of the union workers who helped knock down the building filed a class action lawsuit alleging that Trump exploited undocumented Polish workers.

Though Trump has denied such claims for three decades, Time published the testimony in August last year of a union leader who said that Trump knew of this arrangement, repeatedly toured their work site, and addressed pay issues directly with the workers.

With the workers and Trump reaching a 1998 settlement before trial — a deal that remains under federal court seal — Time teamed up with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to uncover the case records.

Though U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa found “good cause” for secrecy, the Second Circuit overturned that decision today, wasting little time in releasing a ruling after hearing oral argument on May 25.

“Both the common law and the First Amendment create presumptions that certain types of documents should be publicly available,” the unsigned order by the three-judge panel states.

Thursday’s reversal is unsurprising given the judges’ remarks at oral arguments, as reported by Law360.

While U.S. Circuit Judge Raymond Lohier reportedly said that Griesa “applied the wrong standard,” U.S. Circuit Judge Dennis Jacobs said he saw an “error of law.”

Griesa will have another opportunity to apply the correct standard on the surviving orders, but two other documents are now lost to history.

“Two of the documents the press organizations seek — the transcript and the brief — have been destroyed pursuant to the Southern District of New York’s standard document retention policies,” the 7-page order states.

U.S. Circuit Judge Deborah Ann Livingston rounded out the Manhattan court’s unanimous panel.

The Reporters Committee’s litigation director Katie Townsend applauded the ruling.

“We are very pleased with the Second Circuit’s ruling, which makes clear that the public’s common law and constitutional rights of access apply to these records,” Townsend said in an email. “It is now up to the district court to apply the correct legal standards on remand, and we are optimistic that when those correct standards are applied, the district court will rule in our favor and make these orders public.”

Trump’s attorney Jared Blumetti, from the firm LaRocca Hornik Rosen Greenberg & Blaha, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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