May 16, 2007

Judge Lifts Seal on Secret Police Convention Files

A federal judge today lifted a stay that paved the way for the release of about 600 pages of secret documents relating to police preparations for the 2004 Republican National Convention, held in New York.

On May 4, Judge James C. Francis IV of Federal District Court in Manhattan granted a motion brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times to release the documents to the public, but also granted a 10-day stay to the give the city time to file an appeal. In a letter to the judge dated May 15, a lawyer for the city, Peter G. Farrell, wrote that the city will not seek an appeal “in light of the documents’ prior disclosure and corresponding press coverage.”

Initially the city had opposed the release of the documents because, officials insisted, news organizations and legal groups would “fixate upon and sensationalize them,” making it difficult to find jurors who do not know about the police actions.

The documents consist of summary reports filed by detectives involved in police surveillance operations leading up to the convention. During that time officers traveled throughout the country and beyond its borders to attend meetings of groups the police believed would disrupt the convention and break the law. Civil liberties groups say the documents show the police surveillance covered law-abiding citizens engaged in legally protected activities.

The batch of papers released today is one of two groups of documents describing police activities related to the convention. Civil liberties groups are still seeking the raw intelligence reports produced by detectives and upon which the summaries were based. Judge Francis said he would be ready to rule next week on motions from the city objecting to the release of the raw intelligence.

During previous conferences, lawyers for the city have accused civil liberties lawyers of leaking summary reports that have been referred to in The Times and elsewhere. In his letter to the judge, Mr. Farrell wrote that the city will continue to seek “relief due to the disclosure of the intelligence documents in violation of the protective order.”

In court today, Judge Francis noted that since the documents are no longer secret, “the city might consider whether or not they want to proceed” with that aim.