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Corruption Chronicles

Appeals Court Reverses Spitzer Hooker Probe Disclosure

Sordid details of the investigation into Eliot Spitzer’s prostitution scandal won’t be made public after all, now that a federal appeals court has overturned a ruling forcing the government to release the information.

The shamed former New York governor and onetime state attorney general resigned after being outed as a regular john of a high-priced hooker service last year and several media outlets, including Spitzer’s hometown paper, fought to make details of the lengthy investigation public. 

The Justice Department has used its clout to block the move—as have several anonymous but surely powerful johns busted in the case—but a federal judge in Manhattan ordered the materials unsealed earlier this year, albeit in redacted form that removes customers’ names and identifying information. 

In that ruling, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said that there was a “strong and obvious public interest in disclosure” of the documents since the probe resulted in the demise of a popular elected official. "There is an obvious interest in obtaining information about the origins of an investigation that led, ultimately, to the resignation of the governor of New York," the judge wrote. 

Senior Justice Department officials in Washington reportedly ordered federal prosecutors in Manhattan to appeal, claiming the information should remain sealed to preserve the privacy of the prostitution ring’s clients. More importantly, the feds argue that they must protect sensitive details of the how the investigation was actually conducted even though the target is a public figure. 

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals handed them a victory this week, ruling that the media’s interest in exposing the information does not outweigh the presumption against disclosure under a decades-old law that requires “good cause” to unseal wiretap applications. The 14-page order also says the newspaper suing for the material does not have a First Amendment right to access it. 


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