News media try again for release of Moussaoui court filings

Friday, April 4, 2003

WASHINGTON — News organizations have again requested that a federal court release motions by Zacarias Moussaoui, the accused Sept. 11 conspirator acting as his own lawyer.

Lawyers for the organizations, which include the Associated Press, asked U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema yesterday to release the filings, proposing that the government be allowed 10 days after a motion is filed to review it and withhold information deemed sensitive.

Brinkema ruled Aug. 29 that Moussaoui’s pleadings be kept under seal when they included “threats, racial slurs, calls to action, or other irrelevant and inappropriate language.” Many of Moussaoui’s court filings would qualify as such.

The order was issued after the Justice Department said Moussaoui’s motions might include coded messages to other al-Qaida members.

Brinkema modified her order on Sept. 27, giving prosecutors 10 days after any Moussaoui motion was filed to advise her whether the motion should be kept secret, made public in its entirety or released with deletions.

According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, only 14 of Moussaoui’s 45 motions have been disclosed since Brinkema’s ruling. Additionally, only four of the 63 documents originally filed under seal have been released, said the press group, which is one of the organizations seeking access to the filings.

Arguing that Brinkema’s order was too broad and violated the First Amendment, the news organizations have said in court papers that “the press and public have both the constitutional and common-law right to access his pleadings except where compelling interests required otherwise.”

Other media organizations involved in the case are ABC, the Hearst Corporation, The New York Times, the Tribune Company and The Washington Post.

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