In re Application of Reporters Comm. for Freedom of the Press to Unseal Criminal Prosecution of Julian Assange

The court will not at this time enter an order unsealing judicial records related to what the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press believes is a criminal prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The Committee’s application stems from the government’s filing in another case, which inexplicably referred twice to an individual called “Assange.” Members of the public noticed the two references and surmised that the government had instituted criminal charges against Julian Assange, though there is no public record of such charges having been filed.

Whether a defendant has been arrested may affect the government’s ability to satisfy its burden to keep the charging document under seal, but it does not change whether the First Amendment applies as a threshold matter. But here, the government has not acknowledged whether formal charges have been filed against Assange, and the Committee cites no authority for requiring the government to confirm or deny that it has charged someone.

The dispositive issue in this proceeding is whether, under these circumstances, the Committee’s application is ripe for judicial review. Until there is a sufficiently certain disclosure that charges have in fact been filed, the Committee’s claims are premature. To hold otherwise would mean that any member of the public or press – by demanding access to judicial records based on little more than speculation – could effectively force the government to admit or deny that charges had been filed.

Application denied without prejudice.

In re Application of Reporters Comm. for Freedom of the Press to Unseal Criminal Prosecution of Julian Assange, No. 1:18mc37, Jan. 30, 2019. EDVA at Alexandria (Brinkema).



Categories: Opinions, U.S. District Court - Eastern District of Virginia

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