Crime Mapper: USA Court Misconduct
Updated: Aug 22, 2021
Why did the judge in the Ali Sadr case decide to publish the documents that left the US justice in a bad light?
The judge in the case ordered the release of the prosecutor's statements, letters from the parties and supporting documents in the case.
A victory for freedom of expression and information meant the decision of the judge, Alison Nathan, of the Southern District Court of New York regarding the case that in that judicial instance is settled between the United States and Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad. In one of the sections of his decision, of February 17, 2021, he granted the press request by The Associated Press, to allow the disclosure of the documents that the New York prosecutor's office manipulated and tried to hide during the Iranian banker's trial.
In the aforementioned court, a jury determined that Sadr Hasheminejad was guilty of “violation of the sanctions imposed by the United States government on Iran, bank fraud and conspiracy to launder international money with funds from the housing programs that the regime Hugo Chávez agreed with the Islamic Republic of Iran ”, crimes for which he could spend several decades in jail.
However, it was recently learned, that the prosecutors withheld from the defendant's lawyers a document that would have helped in Sadr's defense. Namely, a letter from the Commerzbank to the United States Department of the Treasury to the attention of the office in charge of enforcing the sanctions. The strange behavior of the prosecutors reached an extreme, that instead of correcting their error, they proceeded to "bury" the document among another series of papers that they sent to the defense, believing that the irregularity would not be detected.
The press filed before the court to allow the disclosure of both the Commerzbank letter, as well as the emails and text messages, among others, that the prosecutors crossed and that revealed how their actions allowed the collapse of the case against Sadr as the trial was nearing completion.
It so happened that a bank record turned up at the last minute when Assistant United States Attorney Jane Kim wanted to present it as evidence, but realized that she had not yet shared it with Ali Sadr's lawyers, something that violated the rules of due process.
Such events led Judge Alison Nathan to overturn the jury's verdict and, in recent days, to recommend to the Department of Justice to investigate the probable irregular conduct of the Prosecutor's Office for the Southern District of New York, specifically the Terrorism and Narcotics Unit. International.
In her decision of February 17, Judge Nathan allowed public access to the statements of the prosecution and the documents that the prosecution aspired to keep under seal. And although the magistrate agreed to seal the files that constitute the basis of the ruling that established that the public has the right to know how the events happened.
It recalls the decision that both the Constitution and the laws and judicial tradition recognize the right of public access to judicial procedures and judicial documents. It emphasizes that the First and Sixth Amendments also protect the right to initiate a judicial process - the Sixth for the accused and the First for the public and members of the press - being a condition that the requested document be a “judicial document”.
The jurisprudence indicates that the Court must consider the “relevance of the specific content of the document for the nature of the procedure and the degree to which access to the document would materially help the public to understand the matters before the court and to evaluate the impartiality and integrity of the resolution. judicial". It adds that the court in the exercise of its supervisory powers has the power to investigate false statements and sanction misconduct by lawyers.
Thus, the prosecutor's statements, annexes and letters from the parties are important for the public to understand the issues before the Court, the decision refers, including the dismissal of the underlying charges against Ali Sadr and the misrepresentation. of the prosecution before the Court regarding the disclosure of exculpatory evidence. In this sense, the Court disagreed with the position of the prosecutors that the documents are exempt from disclosure because the present investigation is analogous to a disciplinary procedure. The court forcefully established that Sadr's case is not a disciplinary proceeding.
The Court considered that the public right of access to judicial documents does not evaporate when the misconduct of a lawyer is involved and, on the contrary, it maintains that it is more important “to have a certain responsibility and that the public have confidence in the administration of Justice". Thus, the court concluded that the statements of the prosecutor and the letters of the parties are judicial documents.
Similarly, the Court concluded that both the First Amendment and customary law support public access to documents in the Ali Sadr case, a conclusion it reached on the basis that the statements a court relies on to reach to a judicial decision are documents historically open to the press and the public, which have a deep interest in the conduct of federal prosecutors.
Judge Nathan says that the information about the misconduct of the prosecution that led to the annulment of the jury's verdict and the dismissal of an accusation, is of great value to those who supervise the federal courts. The fact that it was decided not to impose further sanctions based solely on those documents, without a public hearing, outweighs the disclosure.
The decision refers that the prosecutor's statements and their attachments refer to only a handful of emails with third parties, none of which include private or embarrassing information. It maintains that the privacy interests of the prosecutors themselves also do not justify the denial of public access to the documents, while the public's interest in precisely these details weighs against the sealing.
Judge Alison Nathan determined that it is appropriate to reveal the identities of the prosecutors involved and concluded that such information can easily be verified from publicly filed documents and trial transcripts.
The magistrate determined that the public has the right to know how the extraordinary events of this case occurred in which the Government ended up requesting and obtaining the vacancy of the jury's verdict due to the responsibility of public officials and the public's trust in the administration of justice.
“With the exception of a limited class of materials dealing with confidential information, the Court will not keep the prosecutor's statements, letters from the parties, and supporting documents in this case secret. The Court hopes that as the Southern District of New York moves beyond this unfortunate chapter, these documents will provide other prosecutors and members of the public with insight into how the Government came to mishandle its ethical obligations in this case, some deterrence. for misconduct in future trials and certain assurance that the judiciary treats these matters with the utmost seriousness, ”the decision concludes.