C.D.Cal.: SW materials in case with weighty public interest ordered unsealed

The search warrant materials in the LA City Attorney investigation are ordered disclosed because of the weighty public interest in them. In re Consumer Watchdog, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88456 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 11, 2024):

Balancing the public’s interest in accessing the search warrant materials with the privacy concerns of uncharged third-party public officials and those working with them (as described above), the balance tips in favor of disclosure. The public interest in this case is particularly strong. See Nixon v. Warner Comms., Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597-98 (1978) (discussing the right to inspect public records in order to “keep a watchful eye on the workings of public agencies”); In re Los Angeles Times Commc’ns LLC, 28 F.4th 292, 298 (D.C. Cir. 2022) (discussing the “powerful public interest” relating to a public official’s alleged violations of insider-trading laws). Public confidence in government—which lies at the core of a well functioning democracy—is shaken, if not shattered, when public officials and those operating on their behalf engage in criminal or unethical conduct. The nature and scope of misconduct in this case, resulting in convictions of high-level public officials at two municipal agencies, raise serious questions about a culture of corruption. These questions warrant public scrutiny to determine the extent to which wrongdoers have been held accountable and the extent to which the affected agencies have been reformed. The need for scrutiny is only heightened where the corruption threatens the integrity of the judicial system and the safety of this nation’s infrastructure. Without disclosure of the identities of the public officials and others working for the City, the public would not be able to “properly evaluate the fruits of the government’s extensive investigation.” United States v. Kott, 135 F. App’x 69, 70 (9th Cir. 2005).

In short, the public’s interest in the information sought is exceptionally weighty, and the government has failed to establish compelling reasons to overcome the right of access. The government’s request to redact the identities of uncharged third parties is therefore denied in part. The government shall disclose the identity of any public official, or any private person working with a public official on government business, who was the subject of the federal investigation in the criminal case.

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