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U.S. v. MARTIN

March 26, 1999

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL R. MARTIN, WILLIAM D. LADD, MANAGEMENT SERVICES OF ILLINOIS, INC., RONALD D. LOWDER AND JAMES R. BERGER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Mills, District Judge.

OPINION

First, Fourth, and Sixth Amendments.

Free press — Rights of privacy — Fair trial.

Competing interests, all to be resolved.

But first, let us put them in context.

On October 24, 1996, a federal grand jury issued a superseding indictment against Michael R. Martin, William D. Ladd, Management Services of Illinois, Inc., Ronald D. Lowder, and James R. Berger charging them with various crimes which centered around their scheme to defraud the Illinois Department of Public Aid of millions of dollars. The Court conducted three separate trials in this matter which began in June 1997 and concluded in January 1998. Along the way, the Court sealed various documents and proceedings pursuant to the requests made by one or more of the parties. The press objected to the sealing of these documents and proceedings, but the Court overruled the press' objections.

The press appealed the Court's denial of its objections. Specifically, the press appealed three rulings of this Court: (1) the Court's denial of its petition to intervene, (2) the Court's denial of its petition for the release of the sealed documents, and (3) the Court's overruling of its objection concerning Governor Jim Edgar's testimony. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion in In re: Associated Press, 162 F.3d 503 (7th Cir. 1998). Complying with the Seventh Circuit's remand is the task before this Court today.

I. PRESS AS INTERVENORS

Upon receiving the Seventh Circuit's mandate and pursuant to a motion by the press, the Court scheduled a hearing to resolve the issues on remand. At that hearing, the Court vacated its previous Order denying the press' petition to intervene and allowed the press to intervene for the limited purpose of raising constitutional and common law claims regarding access to Court documents and proceedings. Id. at 508.

Although the Court originally denied the press' petition to intervene, it considered and addressed all of the press' arguments regarding the unsealing of the documents and proceedings before doing so. Because it had considered and rejected the press' arguments, the Court believed that it was no longer necessary to allow the press to act as intervenors.

Nevertheless, this practice is not the preferred method in this circuit. In re Associated Press, 162 F.3d at 508-09. The Seventh Circuit has held "that the most appropriate procedural mechanism by which to accomplish this task is by permitting those who oppose the suppression of the material to intervene for that limited purpose." Id. at 507. Therefore, at the hearing, this Court vacated its prior Order denying the press' petition to intervene and allowed the press to intervene for the limited purpose of raising constitutional and common law claims regarding access to Court proceedings and documents, thereby accomplishing the Court's first task on remand.

II. GOVERNOR EDGAR'S TESTIMONY

The second issue which the Court was instructed by the Seventh Circuit to address on remand was the unsealing of the transcript of the agreement made in chambers by the Government and James R. Berger to take the Governor's video deposition. Id. at 513. In all other aspects, the Seventh Circuit affirmed this Court's handling of the Governor's testimony. Id. at 512-13.

The day prior to the hearing, the Court unsealed the transcript of the agreement made in chambers between the Government and James R. Berger to take the Governor's video deposition. Thus, the Court has accomplished its second task on remand.

III. ACCESS TO SEALED DOCUMENTS

The Court's final task on remand is to "articulate its reasons for denying access to the documents that are under seal." Id. at 510. Although the Court believed that it was clear from the tenor of the three trials and from the comments made throughout why it had sealed various documents and proceedings, it is also cognizant that no single document explained its reasons for sealing certain documents and proceedings. Therefore, the Court will do so here.

As both the United States Supreme Court and the Seventh Circuit have opined, "[t]he public's right of access to court proceedings and documents is well-established." Grove Fresh Distribs., Inc. v. Everfresh Juice Co., 24 F.3d 893, 897 (7th Cir. 1994), citing Press-Enter. Co. v. Superior Court of California, ...


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