In which I ask US courts to unseal some documents

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 7.42.45 AM

I wrote to US District Court to encourage the court to unseal some documents in the case of Otto Reich against the Derwick Associates guys. It’s a bit amusing to see my name on the docket, as I didn’t realize my letter would end up part of the official record, available on PACER and such. But of course turnaround is fair play — my whole point is that open court should be open, and other than some personal data, the public has a right to know what the court is hearing. So, no problem at all.

Here’s what I wrote:

Judge Oetken,

I am a reporter who has been following the proceedings in Reich, et al. v. Betancourt Lopez et al., 13 Civ. 5307. I am writing to support the plaintiff’s motion to unseal documents. The public has an interest in transparency of as much information as possible from this case. I have no financial, political or other interest in the case and my only relationship with the parties is one of journalist-subject.

As the writer of the blog Setty’s Notebook (https://settysoutham.wordpress.com) and occasional contributor to Venezuelan news outlets, Vice magazine, Mother Jones and the Texas Observer, I have been one of the few journalists to keep track of the long international saga of alleged corruption in the contracting for Venezuelan electricity plants since 2012. Readers of many news outlets are interested in learning more about Derwick Associates and its principals, as I can see in the visitor logs to my blog. Aside from the general public, there are also state authorities that rely on the press to help them discover and understand the complexities of Venezuelan business. Access logs show the FBI, US Senate, SEC and US District Court have all visited my blog seeking information about Venezuela in recent months.

Information from the sealed files could help, for example, to accurately report on Banca Privada d’Andorra (BPA), an Andorran bank that the US accused last week of being involved in money laundering. Two people whose names appear in the Reich case, Nervis Villalobos and Javier Alvarado, may have laundered money through BPA, according to Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

It is a challenge for reporters and the public that so much of the world’s business happens in places like Venezuela, Spain, and Caribbean island nations, with their opaque court proceedings and corporate registers. The US’s relative transparency helps people everywhere. When people decide to do business in the USA, they get the benefit of a stable, trusted economic and political system. One of the few “risks” they take is that in case of a dispute, they may have to tell the truth in public court.

Opacity leaves the field open for lies. In Venezuela, where I used to work as a Bloomberg correspondent, some local press responded to the dismissal of part of this case by reporting that Derwick and its principals had won outright. One headline focused on you: “New York judge ratified the honesty of the bolichicos of Derwick Associates.” (See http://www.primicias24.com/nacionales/justicia-norteamericana-ractifica-honestidad-de-los-bolichicos-de-la-empresa-derwick-associates/)

Obviously, there is personal information that should be kept out of public view. I just find it frustrating that so much material is currently being submitted under seal. I was driven to write by an article by the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press, which said that reporters could sometimes get documents unsealed in the public interest (http://www.rcfp.org/browse-media-law-resources/news-media-law/news-media-and-law-fall-2014/first-step-unsealing-court-re). I hope that you will do so in this case.

Thank you for your time,

Steven Bodzin

Unlike some things I’ve written, I’d say that’s a fine first entry into the records of US court.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “In which I ask US courts to unseal some documents

    1. Steven/Setty Post author

      I didn’t even know it had been received until I saw it in PACER, the database of court filings. No worries. If they decide to unseal any of the documents, that’s response enough.

Comments are closed.