The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit today overturned the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey’s ruling and vacated a decision to unseal the identity of Chadbourne & Parke’s client “John Doe” in the so-called “Bridgegate” case in New Jersey.
A consortium of media groups have sought to force the US Attorney’s Office to disclose a letter that includes a list of so-called “unindicted co-conspirators” allegedly tied to the Bridgegate scandal, in which lane closures on the George Washington Bridge in September 2013 were allegedly orchestrated to retaliate against the Fort Lee Mayor for his refusal to endorse New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the governor’s bid for reelection. The US Attorney’s Office objected to the disclosure, arguing that the US Attorney’s Manual states that federal prosecutors should remain sensitive to the privacy and reputation interests of uncharged third parties.
On May 12, Chadbourne counsel Jenny Kramer filed a brief in the US District Court for the District of New Jersey on behalf of the individual identified in the brief as “John Doe” arguing that disclosure of the man’s name “brands him as a criminal without due process of law.” The brief argued that the client’s anonymity “is critical to preserve his constitutional right against being branded with a ‘badge of infamy’ through criminal accusations he has no means of contesting.” However, District Court Judge Susan Wigenton ruled that the list should be released, stating that she had “thoroughly considered [Doe’s] privacy interests in determining the Conspirator Letter should be made public.”
Chadbourne then appealed the ruling to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and oral arguments took place on June 6 in Philadelphia, with Jenny Kramer arguing on behalf of John Doe. Today, the Third Circuit panel ruled unanimously that because the letter in question is part of the general discovery process, it is not subject to any First Amendment or common law right of public access. “Public access to judicial documents and court proceedings is a respected tradition and important legal principle, but it has bounds,” the court wrote.
“We are very gratified that the court adopted our arguments and prevented disclosure of highly prejudicial material to which there is no public right of access,” Jenny Kramer said. “We also appreciate the forthright and professional manner in which the US Attorney addressed the important issues we raised in this case.”
About Chadbourne & Parke
For more than a century, Chadbourne & Parke has counseled innovators around the world. We are a full-service law firm that leverages the extraordinary talent from our global network to offer the highest caliber client service in more than 80 countries and across every region in the world. Today, we are recognized internationally for our groundbreaking work in emerging economies and our deep experience in energy and infrastructure, corporate and finance transactions, international disputes, and bankruptcy and financial restructuring.