Post-Bridgegate, Judge Rules John Doe’s Identity to Remain Secret

Business March 31, 2017

Litigation partner Jenny Kramer recently reaffirmed a win for her client “John Doe” in connection with the Bridgegate scandal. On March 31, 2017, US District Judge Susan Wigenton, who presided over the Bridgegate trial, denied a request to make public the names of unindicted individuals whom the prosecution had connected to the case and previously provided to the district court in a letter with a request that it be maintained under seal. The saga was extensively covered by various media outlets.

The issue at hand was whether the provision of the list of unindicted individuals to the district court could be revealed as either a bill of particulars to which the presumptive right of access attached or otherwise publicly filed document. NJ.com noted Judge Wigenton’s initial reasoning for deciding to release the list, “There is very little that is private about the lane closures or the lives of the people allegedly connected to them. Further, individuals thus far identified as being involved in the lane closings have been public employees and/or elected and appointed officials.” This is when the legal battle over this issue started, since the names released would be those of unindicted individuals, as CBS New York highlighted, “Jenny Kramer, an attorney for Doe, contended that her client’s reputation would be damaged by being ‘publicly branded a felon’ … Kramer wrote in her filing to the appeals court that courts have found that identifying someone as an unindicted co-coconspirator [sic] without giving them a chance to challenge the accusation is a violation of due process.”

The United States, which was prosecuting the underlying corruption case, initially argued against disclosure of the list but did not appeal Judge Wigenton’s ruling in favor of release. As Law360 noted, “The government, which called some of the requested information ‘not relevant,’ had provided the list of the co-conspirators directly to the court … with no mention on the case’s public docket, and prosecutors have asked the court to permanently prevent its public disclosure, citing the information’s sensitive nature, according to court documents.”

Jenny argued the case before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, last June, on an expedited basis. Politico distilled the legal question, which was subsequently assessed, argued before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and ultimately decided by the appellate court, “[T]he appeals court decided the list doesn’t meet the threshold for disclosure because it is not a ‘bill of particulars’ or an extension of the original indictment in the case. In other words, it’s just part of the routine discovery process and not something the public would ordinarily have access to before trial.”

Judge Wigenton’s recent judgment marks a reversal of her previous decisions. The move falls squarely in line with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that reversed her original ruling to disclose the names and held, in a precedential opinion, that the list was part of routine discovery to which the public’s presumptive right of access did not attach. NJ.com noted that Judge Wigenton had concluded that documents requested by the media, which mention of John Doe by his true name, would be subject to redactions “proposed by the government in order to prevent a serious injury to privacy interests that outweigh the public’s interest.”

Jenny’s brief was quoted by Bloomberg, “[The] sacred right -- the right not to be branded a criminal without due process of law -- will never be diminished, no matter how much media attention the Bridgegate fiasco attracts.” She was also quoted on Reuters, “It’s not about what they would like to know … It’s about what they are legally entitled to know.”

To read Chadbourne’s earlier press release, click here.

For further reading:

Bloomberg

CBS New York

Law360 (subscription required)

NJ.com (first and second mentions found above)

Politico

The New York Times (subscription required)

Reuters