Independent counsel's Iran-contra report may be released soon p. 18

By: Debra Gersh Hernandez Society of Professional Journalists, Reporters Committee are among those
that petitioned federal court for access sp.

THE PUBLIC FINALLY may get to see the independent counsel's final report on the Iran-contra affair.
In early December, a federal court ruled that the independent counsel's final report on Iran-contra would be released after a "slight delay."
The ruling came after an emergency petition for access, filed by the Society of Professional Journalists, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and National Security Archive (E&P, Dec. 11, 1993, p. 45).
Immediately after that decision, however, sealed motions were made by parties mentioned in the report, seeking to delay or prevent disclosure of certain information as well as asking for time to appeal.
Although the motions were sealed, published reports indicated that filings may have been made by attorneys for former President Reagan, former Attorney General Edwin Meese III and former White House aide Oliver North.
While upholding release of the report "substantially in its entirety," the three-judge appeals panel allowed a 10-day delay for further appeals to the Supreme Court.
The appeals panel criticized the report for making accusations against people who have not been indicted nor convicted of crimes as well as those whose convictions were overturned, but it also said full disclosure was in the public's interest.
"It is in the public interest that this matter of extended national controversy be afforded as full a conclusion as possible," Judge David Sentelle wrote for the federal appeals panel.
"Therefore, rather than extend the controversy over the supposed, reported or suspected contents of the report, we have determined that the public interest will be served by actual disclosure."
SPJ, RCFP and NSA had argued, "Some litigants have adopted a routine practice of filing pleadings under seal without justification and without regard for the enormous public interest at stake.
"These secret filings can serve only to undermine public confidence in the judicial process, deepen public skepticism about the handling of the Iran-contra affair and deny the public its cherished right to know what occurs in its courts." The three groups charged that the sealed motions made after the court's Dec. 3 decision to release the report were designed only to evade opposition and public scrutiny.
Further, sealing those motions "flies in the face of the common law presumption that judicial records will be open to public inspection" as well as infringes "upon the First Amendment right of access to the courts," they said.


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