Ctr. for Constitutional Rights v. Lind, Civil Action No. ELH–13–1504.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
Writing for the CourtELLEN LIPTON HOLLANDER
Citation954 F.Supp.2d 389
Decision Date19 June 2013
Docket NumberCivil Action No. ELH–13–1504.
PartiesCENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Col. Denise LIND, et al., Defendants.

954 F.Supp.2d 389

CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Col. Denise LIND, et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No. ELH–13–1504.

United States District Court,
D. Maryland.

June 19, 2013.


[954 F.Supp.2d 391]


John J. Connolly, William J. Murphy, Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, Baltimore, MD, Shayana D. Kadidal, New York, NY, for Plaintiffs.

John Russell Tyler, Eric Richardson Womack, Gregory Peter Dworkowitz, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Defendants.


MEMORANDUM OPINION

ELLEN LIPTON HOLLANDER, District Judge.

This case arises from the general court-martial of Private First Class Bradley E. Manning, and involves issues with respect to public access to the court-martial proceedings. Pretrial proceedings in the court-martial began in March 2012, pursuant to Article 39(a) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (“UCMJ”), codified in 10 U.S.C. ch. 47. The bench trial began on June 3, 2013, at Fort George G. Meade, within the geographic territory of the District of Maryland, and is expected to last about twelve weeks. Plaintiffs, who are several journalists, advocacy organizations, and media enterprises, 1 have filed suit in this Court under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, seeking to obtain greater public access to the court-martial proceedings. This Memorandum Opinion resolves only the Motion for Preliminary Injunction (ECF 2) that plaintiffs filed with their complaint.

Background

During PFC Bradley Manning's service as an Intelligence Analyst in the United States Army, he allegedly transmitted to the Wikileaks organization, without authorization,

[954 F.Supp.2d 392]

numerous sensitive and/or classified documents, including but not limited to databases of military field reports of significant activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, diplomatic cables of the United States, and video depicting certain incidents occurring in the theater of war. Wikileaks then made the documents available to the public.

On March 1, 2011, the United States Army charged Manning with twenty-two violations of the UCMJ, including that he provided “intelligence to ... the enemy,” in violation of Article 104 of the UCMJ, and that he provided “information relating to the national defense” to a “person not entitled to receive it,” in violation of Article 134 of the UCMJ and 18 U.S.C. § 793(e). See ECF 2–2 at A80–88 (statement of charges). On February 3, 2012, Major General Michael S. Linnington, the Commanding General of the Military District of Washington and the convening authority, referred the charges to a general court-martial. Colonel Denise Lind was assigned as the presiding judge.

PFC Manning's conduct and the government's prosecution of him have generated intense and widespread public interest, both nationally and around the world. Since the inception of the pretrial proceedings, the court-martial of PFC Manning has been open to the public, except for sessions that were closed because they involved discussion of classified information.2 However, prior to the instant litigation the docket of written documents filed in the case was not made publicly available.

Shortly after the pretrial proceedings began, the Center for Constitutional Rights (“CCR”), on behalf of Wikileaks ITC, Inc. (“Wikileaks”) and its founder and editor-in-chief, Julian Assange, wrote two letters to Judge Lind and to PFC Manning's defense counsel, seeking access to documents filed in the court-martial, transcripts of court hearings, and off-the-record conferences conducted under Rule 802 of the Rules for Courts–Martial (“R.C.M.”). On April 24, 2012, in open court, Judge Lind received CCR's letters into the record, under a single docket entry, as Appellate Exhibit 66. She interpreted the second of the two letters as a motion by CCR to intervene for purposes of seeking the relief requested, and denied the request.

Judge Lind stated:

While the Court acknowledges the existence of a common law right of access to public records, including judicial documents, that right is not absolute; Nixon v. Warner Communications Inc., 435 U.S. 589 at 599[, 98 S.Ct. 1306, 55 L.Ed.2d 570] (1978).

The Court also notes the existence of a Congressionally devised system of access to government documents, the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA.

When Congress has created an administrative procedure for processing and releasing to the public on terms meeting with Congressional approval the common-law right of access may be satisfied under the terms of that Congressionally devised system of access. Id. at 603 to 606[, 98 S.Ct. 1306]. Nor does the 1st Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press or the 6th Amendment guarantee of a public trial mandate access to or copying by non-parties of exhibits admitted during a court-martial. Constitutional interpretation aside, the Court notes that under the military justice system,

[954 F.Supp.2d 393]

the Court does not call a court-martial into existence, nor is the Court the custodian of exhibits in the case; whether appellate, prosecution, or defense exhibits, which become part of a record of trial. See for example, Rules for Courts–Martial 503(a) and (c); 601(a); 808 and 1103(b)(1)(a) and (d)(5).

Neither is the Court the release authority for such documents if requested under FOIA. Requests for access to exhibits in this case should be directed to the appropriate records custodian.3

Thereafter, in May 2012, pursuant to the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a), the plaintiffs in this case filed in the Army Court of Criminal Appeals (“ACCA”) a “Petition for Extraordinary Relief in the Nature of a Writ of Prohibition and Mandamus,” challenging Judge Lind's ruling.4 The ACCA denied the petition, without an opinion, on June 21, 2012. Plaintiffs then appealed the ACCA's decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (“CAAF”), which is the highest appellate court in the military justice system.5 The CAAF heard oral argument on October 10, 2012, and issued its opinion on April 16, 2013. See Center for Constitutional Rights v. United States, 72 M.J. 126 (C.A.A.F.2013).

In a 3–2 decision, the CAAF ruled that it lacked jurisdiction under the All Writs Act to consider the merits of plaintiffs' claims. The CAAF noted that “the accused [ i.e., Manning] has steadfastly refused to join in the litigation, or, despite the Court's invitation, to file a brief on the questions presented.” Id. at 129. In the view of the CAAF majority, plaintiffs were asking the CAAF “to adjudicate what amounts to a civil action, maintained by persons who are strangers to the court-martial, asking for relief—expedited access to certain documents—that has no bearing on any findings and sentence that may eventually be adjudged by the court-martial.” Id. According to the majority, such issues were outside of the CAAF's statutory jurisdiction, which is limited to review of “the findings and sentence as approved by the convening authority and as affirmed or set aside as incorrect in law by the Court of Criminal Appeals.” Id. at 129 (quoting UCMJ, art. 67(c)). The CAAF majority also observed that the government “suggest[ed] that review by an Article III court is the appropriate forum for litigation of any TJAG [the Judge Advocate General] decision respecting the release of documents,” arguing “that the authority to release the documents ‘is committed by statute and regulation to the Judge Advocate General (TJAG),’ not the military judge”

[954 F.Supp.2d 394]

or the military appellate courts. Id. at 128 (quoting government).

Pursuant to the statute governing Supreme Court review of the CAAF's decisions, 28 U.S.C. § 1259, further review by the Supreme Court of the CAAF's decision, by way of certiorari, was not available. Thus, the two dissenters opined that “collateral appeal to Article III courts” was the only remaining available avenue for plaintiffs to press their claims. Id. at 132 (Baker, C.J., dissenting).

In the meantime, on February 28, 2013, PFC Manning pleaded guilty to ten of the twenty-two charges against him. Twelve counts remained to be tried. Manning also elected to be tried by way of a bench trial, with Judge Lind as the sole finder of fact, rather than to avail himself of his right to trial by a jury of other servicemembers.

On May 22, 2013, just over a month after the CAAF issued its ruling, plaintiffs filed suit in this Court against Colonel Denise Lind; Maj. General Michael Linnington; Lieutenant General Dana Chipman, the Army Judge Advocate General; and Secretary of Defense Charles T. Hagel. All of the defendants were sued in their official capacities. Plaintiffs' complaint contains three counts: (1) a request for injunctive relief under the First Amendment; (2) a request for a writ of mandamus under the First Amendment; and (3) a request for a writ of mandamus under the common law and R.C.M. 806, which provides that courts-martial generally are to be “open to the public.” They seek a declaratory judgment, the issuance of various directives and/or writs of mandamus to the Manning court-martial, and an award of attorneys' fees and costs.

As noted, plaintiffs also filed, along with their complaint, a motion to obtain preliminary injunctive relief. The Motion for Preliminary Injunction (ECF 2) was fully briefed by the parties, and oral argument was presented to the Court on June 17, 2013.6

Additional facts are included in the Discussion.

Discussion

Notwithstanding the intense public interest in PFC Manning's court-martial, and the corresponding questions concerning national security that pervade PFC Manning's alleged offenses, the merits of the government's prosecution of PFC Manning have limited relevance to the issues before me. I must first determine whether this Court possesses jurisdiction to resolve the Motion and, if so, I must discern and apply the law with respect to public access to an ongoing general court-martial, within the parameters established by binding Supreme Court and Fourth Circuit...

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3 practice notes
  • Commonwealth v. Pon, SJC–11542.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 15, 2014
    ...filed in connection with at least some types of substantive pretrial criminal proceedings.” Center for Constitutional Rights v. Lind, 954 F.Supp.2d 389, 402 (D.Md.2013). Of the cases cited for this proposition, however, only the First Circuit opinion, Globe Newspaper Co. v. Pokaski, 868 F.2......
  • AV2 v. McDonough, Civil Action 22-369
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • April 20, 2022
    ...as her other claims, namely preventing the release of her claim records. See (id. at 19). [7] Center for Constitutional Rights v. Lind, 954 F.Supp.2d 389 (D. Md. 2013), cited by AV2, is inapt. That case involved journalists, media enterprises and advocacy organizations who sought interventi......
  • AV2 v. McDonough, Civil Action 22-369
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • April 20, 2022
    ...as her other claims, namely preventing the release of her claim records. See (id. at 19). [7] Center for Constitutional Rights v. Lind, 954 F.Supp.2d 389 (D. Md. 2013), cited by AV2, is inapt. That case involved journalists, media enterprises and advocacy organizations who sought interventi......
3 cases
  • Commonwealth v. Pon, SJC–11542.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 15, 2014
    ...filed in connection with at least some types of substantive pretrial criminal proceedings.” Center for Constitutional Rights v. Lind, 954 F.Supp.2d 389, 402 (D.Md.2013). Of the cases cited for this proposition, however, only the First Circuit opinion, Globe Newspaper Co. v. Pokaski, 868 F.2......
  • AV2 v. McDonough, Civil Action 22-369
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • April 20, 2022
    ...as her other claims, namely preventing the release of her claim records. See (id. at 19). [7] Center for Constitutional Rights v. Lind, 954 F.Supp.2d 389 (D. Md. 2013), cited by AV2, is inapt. That case involved journalists, media enterprises and advocacy organizations who sought interventi......
  • AV2 v. McDonough, Civil Action 22-369
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • April 20, 2022
    ...as her other claims, namely preventing the release of her claim records. See (id. at 19). [7] Center for Constitutional Rights v. Lind, 954 F.Supp.2d 389 (D. Md. 2013), cited by AV2, is inapt. That case involved journalists, media enterprises and advocacy organizations who sought interventi......

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