A federal judge in Washington is blocking a joint request from the Justice Department and the defense lawyers for a group of former Blackwater security guards to keep sealed hundreds of pages of transcripts from hearings that led to the dismissal of charges.
Judge Ricardo Urbina of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia today denied the joint request in a one-page order.
The lawyers for both sides asked yesterday that the transcripts—three weeks’ worth of closed-door hearings—remain sealed since the Justice Department is appealing the failed prosecution to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. There, the department is challenging Urbina’s Dec. 31 order dismissing charges. The department filed a notice of appeal this afternoon.
A Justice Department attorney said in court papers yesterday that the transcripts should remain sealed -- pending the outcome of the appeal, in the event the case is remanded to the trial court -- to prevent the tainting of witnesses and potential jurors. The sealed hearings explored the extent to which the government improperly used immunized statements in building the case against the guards, who are charged in the shooting deaths of Iraqi civilians during a gunfight in Baghdad in September 2007.
Urbina found the government acted recklessly in mounting the prosecution and dismissed the indictment. After the dismissal of charges, Urbina ordered the release of the sealed hearing transcripts by Feb. 2, the last day the government had to challenge the ruling.
The attorneys for the opposing sides agreed that it was easier to ask Urbina—rather than the D.C. Circuit—to keep the transcripts under seal. Now, it appears the lawyers in the case will have to file court papers with the D.C. Circuit to stay the release of the transcripts.
“If the motion is filed with the court of appeals after the notice of appeal is filed, the court of appeals would have almost no time to receive the docket, assign a panel, and familiarize itself with the case before the February 2nd deadline,” Justice Department National Security Division trial attorney Joseph Kaster said in court papers filed yesterday.