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United States v. Pickard

United States District Court, D. Kansas

March 3, 2017

United States of America Plaintiff,
William Leonard Pickard and Clyde Apperson, Defendants.


          J. Thomas Marten Chief United States District Judge

         Defendants William Leonard Pickard and Clyde Apperson were convicted of conspiracy to manufacture lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1)(A), (b)(1))A), and 846, and possession of LSD with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A). The government's case against Pickard and Apperson was supported by an accomplice and DEA confidential informant (CI), Gordon Todd Skinner. As a part of the continuing challenge to their convictions, the defendants seek the unsealing of Skinner's CI file compiled by the DEA. During the trial of the action, the court ordered the government to give a copy of the CI file to the defense. A copy of the file was also submitted to the court, which was placed under seal.

         In the present action, the defendants seek the unsealing of the CI file held by the court, asserting a common-law right of access to the document as a judicial record. Simultaneously, the defendants have undertaken Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation in other courts, seeking to obtain other documents held by the DEA regarding Skinner.[1] The court denied the request, finding that the defendants had failed to show any substantial need for the document. United States v. Pickard, No. 00-40104-01/02-RDR, 2012 WL 1658899, *3 (D. Kan. May 9, 2012). The Tenth Circuit subsequently concluded that the burden was on the government to show why the matter should remain under seal.

         On remand, the court authorized the unsealing of portions of the CI file which had become public information. The court determined that the government had met its burden for withholding other documents in the CI file, which it catalogued by reference to a Vaughn index which it had also submitted in response to a FOIA action commenced by defendants in California. See Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820, 827-28 (D.C. Cir. 1973).

         On appeal, the Tenth Circuit determined that a more particularized determination was required for withholding production, and that the summary of Skinner's CI file submitted by the government was insufficient to permit such a review. United States v. Apperson, 642 Fed.Appx. 892 (10th Cir. 2016). In particular, the court noted that the Vaughn index accepted by this court was later found to be inadequate in the California FOIA action. See Pickard v. Department of Justice, No. 06-00185 CRB, 2014 WL 1868841 (N.D. Cal. May 7, 2014).[2]

         Going forward, the government must show a significant interest which outweighs the presumption in favor of public access to judicial records. See Mann v. Boatright, 477 F.3d 1140, 1149 (10th Cir. 2007). The court must conduct a fact-specific analysis as to “particular documents or categories of documents in the CI file.” 642 Fed.Appx. at 902. Moreover, “the asserted interests for sealing cannot be generic interests that would apply with equal force to every case. The government must articulate specific interests that apply in the context of this case, and the district court must balance those interests against the public's interest in access.” Id. at 904.

         Such a showing is consistent with requirements for particularity. See 642 F.3d. Appx. at 903 (citing Wiener v. FBI, 943 F.2d 972, 987-88 (9th Cir.1991)). Further, the showing must address with particularity documents in the CI file which are already in the public domain. See 642 Fed.Appx. at 901 (noting “high salience” of the issue).

         The matter immediately before the court is the defendants' Motion Regarding Unsealed Document (Dkt. 784), which asks that the court docket the Risk Assessment as a separate pleading. The defendants assert that this is required “so experts and other witnesses could examine [it] for indicia of inauthenticity and unreliability.” (Id. at 1).

         The defendants claim that “evidence exists that the ‘Risk Assessment' may be inauthentic and unreliable.” (Id. at 2).[3] The defendants argue that the issue must be addressed before the court addresses the production of the remainder of the CI file:

Defendant[s] observe that the issue of inauthenticity of the “Risk Assessment” should be resolved prior to any substantive analysis by this Court in response to the Tenth Circuit's decision, for improprieties in the conduct of law enforcement strongly influence the public interest factor of the analysis and may be determinative.

(Dkt. 778 at 3. See also Dkt. 786 at 5).

         The government opposes the motion on the grounds that the Risk Assessment has been previously unsealed, and is available to the defendants for review. The defendants acknowledge the document is unsealed and in the public domain. (Dkt. 763, at 7, Dkt. 784, at 2). The government further notes that the defendants have failed to provide any to evidence of supposed inauthenticity.

         In their reply, the defendants argue the Risk Assessment is suspicious because it references a DEA procedure (Agents Manual Section 6612.13) for risk assessment that was not formally adopted while Skinner was actively informing on them, citing submissions made in Arizona FOIA litigation. Pickard v. Department of Justice, 11-cv-00443-DCB (D. Ariz.). They also assert that the DEA generally engaged in a pattern of falsifying documents, citing to the decision of the Tenth Circuit resolving their direct appeal, United States v. Apperson, 441 F.3d 1162, 1207 (10th Cir. 2006), citing an instance in which a computer file was deleted as “prompting the Court to conclude ‘this is perhaps the most serious instance of government misconduct.'”

         The court finds no necessity for placement of the Risk Assessment on the court's docket. The document itself is not inherently suspicious. The Risk Assessment does not indicate when it was produced, other than to indicate that at some point it was faxed to the United States Attorneys Office in Topeka, Kansas, on March 4, 2003. The Arizona court determined that “DEA Agents Manual Section 6612.13 was first included in the Manual and became effective on June 28, 2001.” Pickard v. Department of Justice, 11-00443-DCB, Dkt. 133 at 8 (D. Ariz. Aug. ...

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