Federal court throws out lawsuit over ethics-probe leak
DETROIT — A judge dismissed a lawsuit yesterday by a former terrorism prosecutor who accused the U.S. Justice Department of violating privacy law by leaking details of an ethics investigation to the Detroit Free Press.
Richard Convertino cannot show that the government acted willfully and illegally without knowing the identity of the leaker, said U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in Washington. The case has been in litigation for seven years.
Convertino handled the first major terrorism trial after 9/11, but the convictions were thrown out because evidence was withheld. He was criminally charged over the case but acquitted and now is a lawyer in private practice in the Detroit area.
Convertino’s lawyers repeatedly tried to force Free Press reporter David Ashenfelter to reveal his source for a 2004 story about an internal ethics probe so they could gather evidence for the lawsuit against the government.
But Ashenfelter refused and finally invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when he was ordered to answer questions in a deposition in 2009.
Separately, the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General investigated and couldn’t determine the identity of the leaker. It found that 30 people who had access to information about the ethics referral denied being a Free Press source.
“This court is unwilling to prolong this litigation further,” Lamberth said. “Convertino has spent nearly a decade in his unsuccessful attempts to identify Ashenfelter’s sources, and there is simply no reason to believe that yet another delay in this case will result in discovery of that information.”
A message seeking comment left for Convertino was not returned in time for this story. Free Press editor and publisher Paul Anger declined to comment.