Bookstore decides to resist Starr subpoena of Lewinsky records

Thursday, April 2, 1998

WASHINGTON — Kramerbooks & afterwords, a trendy Dupont Circle bookstore that caters to Washington’s power elite, has reversed field and decided to challenge Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s subpoena seeking information about the book purchases of Monica Lewinsky.

“The independent counsel’s subpoena raises extremely serious questions about the privacy and First Amendment rights of our customers,” William J. Kramer, one of the owners of Kramerbooks, said.

Kramer said his attorneys notified Starr’s office on Tuesday that the bookstore would file a motion to quash the subpoena, which had called for the production of information relating to Lewinsky’s purchases by 9:15 a.m. today. That motion was filed in U.S. District Court here late Tuesday afternoon, Kramer said.

Kramerbooks stressed that contrary to some news reports, it has not turned
over any documents or information in response to the subpoena. However, last week, after the bookstore received the subpoena for the Lewinsky records, Kramerbooks lawyer Carol O. O’Riordan said the store would produce records of a few of Lewinsky’s purchases as the result of a negotiated agreement with Starr’s office that limited the scope of the original subpoena.

Starr’s subpoena — and the bookstore’s apparent willingness to produce the records without a fight — set off a First Amendment firestorm, with several groups criticizing Starr for taking a step that was a clear invasion of individual privacy. The bookstore also took some heat for negotiating with the independent counsel’s office rather than going to court to challenge the constitutionality of the request.

In an interview last week, O’Riordan told The New York Times that the bookstore was “in the cross-hairs of a special prosecutor.” If the store had gone to court to quash the subpoena, O’Riordan said, it would have incurred extra costs, its business would have been disrupted and it might have fared worse than it did by agreeing to partial compliance with the subpoena.

But Kramer said after he and his partners educated themselves on the issues raised by the subpoena, they became “determined to fight.”

“Our company policy is plain,” he said. “We will not turn over any information about our customers purchases and have not done so in this instance.”

The American Booksellers Association and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression voiced strong support for the Kramerbooks decision.

“Mr. Starr’s subpoena is poisoning the atmosphere in bookstores throughout the country. If the First Amendment means anything, it means we have the right to purchase books without fear that the government will inquire into our reading habits,” said Avin Mark Domnitz, the executive director of the American Booksellers Association.

Christopher Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, said that his group would file a “friend of the court” brief in support of Kramerbooks and will help raise funds to pay the legal bills in what could be an expensive fight. He said booksellers from all over the country had been calling to volunteer their help.

“We are very grateful to the ABA, ABFFE and our fellow booksellers,” Kramer said.

In addition to Booksellers, a number of trade associations and professional organizations also have announced support of the Starr challenge. The list includes the Association of American Publishers, the American Library Association, the Freedom to Read Foundation, PEN American Center, the International Periodical Distributors Association, the Periodical Wholesalers of North America, the National Association of College Stores, the Publishers Marketing Association and the Periodical and Book Association of America.

Supporters outside the book and magazine industry include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Association of Recording Merchandisers.

Although the uproar may have helped Kramerbooks change its stand, it didn’t appear to have fazed Starr. According to today’s Washington Post, he has served a similar broad subpoena on Barnes & Noble at the chain’s corporate offices in New York. In a statement, Barnes & Noble also said it would fight.

“The subpoena raises the issue of whether the government has the right to pry into the reading preferences of every individual,” Barnes & Noble said in a statement quoted by the Post. “We believe that the First Amendment is sacrosanct and that it protects our customers’ right to privacy and their right to obtain and receive information without public disclosure.”