At the U.S. Justice Department's request, a federal judge in Washington today kept sealed a court document that addresses issues involving a key witness for the government in the perjury case against Roger Clemens.
Judge Reggie Walton of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said this afternoon at a hearing he was concerned about how disclosure of the information could affect his ability to pick an impartial jury.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in the prosecution of Clemens, who was charged in August 2010 with lying to Congress when he denied using performance enhancing drugs during his baseball career.
Clemens’ attorneys and prosecutors spent the bulk of the hearing going over the scope of what evidence should be allowed and the items that should be prohibited. For instance, Hardin will not be allowed to tell jurors that Clemens faces prison time if he is convicted.
The hearing began with a lengthy and cryptic discussion of the Justice Department’s request that a court document be filed under seal. The document addresses an ongoing state proceeding that involves Brian McNamee, Clemens’ trainer.
“They are seeking to protect their key witness. That is all that is at issue here,” Hardin said in court.
Alia Smith, an attorney representing The New York Times and Associated Press, argued unsuccessfully to convince Walton to release the document to the public.
Smith, a partner at Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, urged Walton to deal with any media exposure issues through the jury selection process. Smith also asked Walton to revisit the sealing of the document at the start of trial, not at the end of it.
Walton said the public doesn’t have a right to hear information about witnesses that might not be relevant at trial. There’s no certainty that the information will come up. The defense, Hardin said, could seek to raise, at trial, the issues in the document.
Clemens' lead attorney, Russell Hardin Jr. of Houston, argued the public has a right to know whether Clemens is receiving a fair trial. He suggested that the public could question Walton’s fairness if he is keeping information secret.
“I don’t have a problem being judged by the public,” Walton said from the bench. “That comes with the territory.”
Prosecutors told Walton today that the government is only advocating a temporary seal of the document.