In re Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest

The Law Center moved to unseal search warrants related to the indictment filed in United States v. Michael J. Miske, Jr., et al., 19-CR-99 DKW-KJM.  Search warrants typically are withheld from the public before an indictment is filed so that potential targets cannot prematurely learn about the criminal investigation and destroy evidence or flee the jurisdiction. The indicted defendants in the Miske case, however, have access to the search warrants through discovery, so the Government and the defendants will need a different compelling reason for withholding the warrants from the public.  The Government claimed that none of the search warrants could be unsealed because it would interfere with investigations into unindicted individuals.  The case was assigned to Judge Derrick K. Watson. The Law Center’s motion was filed under 22-MC-286.

On July 11, 2022, Judge Watson granted the Law Center’s motion to unseal in part and required the Government to comply with Local Rule 79.2, which requires the Government to provide a justification (in camera) for keeping a search warrant sealed after one year.  The Government’s subsequent submissions focused on a subset of the warrant proceedings or a subset of documents within a particular proceeding.  On September 23 and 30, based on the warrants not contested by the Government, Judge Watson ordered certain warrant-related proceedings unsealed.  On October 20, based on a review of the Government’s submissions and the details of the relevant warrant proceedings, Judge Watson proposed further unsealing:  (1) documents in five proceedings regarding ongoing pre-indictment criminal investigations would remain sealed; (2) certain documents in five proceedings in which Judge Watson disagreed with the Government’s submissions would be unsealed; and (3) all other documents which concerned either “split” investigations (some indicted, others ongoing) or uncharged individuals would be redacted.  On November 17, Judge Watson ordered redacted disclosures of certain documents and unsealing others; he also ordered regular six month status reports from the Government as to whether continued sealing was necessary.

On July 5, 2023, after the Government’s first status report, Judge Watson ordered additional documents unsealed.  Because the Government sought to maintain various redactions in other documents solely on privacy grounds, he further ordered the Government to justify the continued redactions if the matters were no longer under investigation.  When the Government did not provide a justification, on August 23, Judge Watson ordered more documents unsealed without redactions.  The Government remains under a continuing obligation to provide regular status reports as to whether continued sealing is necessary for the remaining files.

Unsealed Proceedings

Below is a .zip file that contains at a minimum the search warrant application and warrant return for each proceeding, if unsealed; in some instances, it also may include the motion to seal or other ancillary filings.  Anyone interested in a particular search warrant may check PACER to see whether there are additional documents not included here.

Redacted filings unsealed with the November 17 order have the notation “(redacted)” in the file name.  As additional documents have been unsealed, the zip file has been updated.  Subsequently unsealed filings may have the notation “(new)” or “(updated)” in the file name.  Also, multiple copies of a document may be included in the zip file, e.g., when a previously redacted file has been unsealed without redaction; notations in the file name will identify the differences.

Warrant Proceedings (zip file over 350 Mb)