United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER AND REASONS
M. AFRICK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
government's motion to seal presents the question of what
this Court should do about potentially sensitive, yet
nonetheless minimally relevant documents attached to a
frivolous mandamus petition. The government argues that the
potentially sensitive documents should be sealed or, at the
very least, redacted to remove sensitive information.
of background is helpful when evaluating the present motion.
Luke West's mandamus petition sought relief-federal court
intervention in his ongoing military justice proceedings-that
was barred by Supreme Court precedent. See Schlesinger v.
Councilman, 420 U.S. 738, 758 (1975) (“[W]hen a
serviceman charged with crimes by military authorities can
show no harm other than that attendant to resolution of his
case in the military court system, the federal district
courts must refrain from intervention, by way of injunction
or otherwise.”). This Court, as precedent required,
dismissed West's petition without prejudice. See
R. Doc. No. 15.
brings us to the motion before the Court. The parties dispute
whether this Court should seal certain ancillary documents to
West's quixotic filings. In particular, the government
argues that the transcript and summary of West's military
justice proceedings should remain under seal due to
personally identifiable information in the documents. The
government suggests that the filing of the unredacted
transcript into the record violated the Privacy Act and
certain other regulations. West counters that release of the
transcript is critical to his counsel's ability to
zealously defend West and that the transcript is of interest
to the public so that they can understand and evaluate the
military justice proceedings. West also argues that the
filing of the unredacted documents was in full compliance
with all applicable laws and regulations.
first justification-that the release of the transcript and
the summaries is critical to his ability to zealously defend
his client-fails to persuade. After all, even if the
transcripts were filed under seal (as the government
repeatedly requested) that would not prevent this Court from
reviewing each and every word in the transcripts.
extent that West wants to rely on filing the documents
publically to advance his client's case, that largely
leads back to West's contention that the public interest
favors the public release of the documents. On that point,
the Court certainly agrees with West in part: “[T]he
public has a common law right to inspect and copy judicial
records, ” SEC v. Van Waeyenberghe, 990 F.2d
845, 848 (5th Cir. 1993), and that right of access is
critical to ensuring public confidence in both the civilian
and military judicial processes. Nonetheless, the presumption
of a right of access “is not absolute” and this
Court has the discretion to prevent its docket from being
used as “a vehicle for improper purposes.”
Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).
considering all the applicable factors as well as the record
here, the Court concludes that its docket is being used by
West for improper purposes. Two primary factors drive the
Court's conclusion that sealing is appropriate.
the documents at issue are minimally relevant to the merits
of the mandamus petition. It is the procedural posture of
West's military justice proceedings-and not their
content-that dictates the outcome of this matter. See,
e.g., Councilman, 420 U.S. at 759-60
(“[Petitioner] was on active duty when the charges
against him were brought. There is no question that he is
subject to military authority and in proper cases to
disciplinary sanctions levied through the military justice
system. We see no injustice in requiring [petitioner] to
submit to a system established by Congress and carefully
designed to protect not only military interests but his
legitimate interests as well.”). Public review of the
contents of the transcripts is not necessary or even
particularly useful if a member of the public wanted to
evaluate the correctness of this Court's dismissal of
West's petition is frivolous and asks for relief that
this Court could not possibly grant under
Schlesinger. Indeed, this Court has substantial
concerns that the entire mandamus petition was a subterfuge
to obtain discovery and then to use the Court's docket to
publically release documents.
sealing the documents would improperly permit West to
circumvent the military court system. This Court abstained
from addressing the merits of West's petition under
Councilman “to prevent unnecessary friction
between the civilian and military court systems.” R.
Doc. No. 15, at 2. Yet, resolving the sealing dispute in
West's favor would again require this Court to thrust
itself into the middle of live disputes arising out of
West's military proceedings. Compare, e.g., R.
Doc. No. 22, at 5-7 (arguing about the proper interpretation
of JAG professional conduct rules), with R. Doc. No.
20, at 11-12 (same). This Court is not the proper body to be
resolving those issues in the first instance. Those
determinations, as with all others in West's case,
properly belongs to the military. Cf. Councilman,
420 U.S. at 758 (“[I]mplicit in the congressional
scheme embodied in the Code is the view that the military
court system generally is adequate to and responsibly will
perform its assigned task. We think this congressional
judgment must be respected . . . .”).
Court finds that the need to prevent abuse of its docket and
circumvention of the military court system outweighs the
public's interest in learning more about West's
military justice proceedings. Thus, although West may well be
correct that many pieces of information that the government
seeks to seal here may already be available publically,
see R. Doc. No. 25 at 10, this proceeding-which
should never have begun in the first place-remains an
inappropriate vehicle for West to smuggle new
information into the public record.
Court will grant the government's motion to
seal. Nonetheless, because the government
represented to the Court that the government would be
amendable to filing redacted versions of the documents into
the record, R. Doc. No. 17-1, at 4, the Court will so order
so as to avoid unnecessarily shielding information from
IT IS ORDERED that the government's motion to seal, R.
Doc. No. 17, is GRANTED. R. Doc. No 5-3, R. Doc. No. 11-3, R.
Doc. No. 12-5, and R. Doc. No. 14-3 be and hereby are SEALED.
The government shall file redacted copies of the above
documents into the record no later than June 2, 2017. The
government shall not redact any information ...