Judge denies subpoenas to reporters in former congressman’s bribery case
SAN DIEGO – A federal judge ruled Monday that a defense contractor convicted of bribing former U.S. Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham cannot subpoena news reporters and government officials to determine the source of grand jury leaks.
Brent Wilkes had sought to subpoena 20 possible witnesses, including Allison Hoffman, a reporter for The Associated Press. His attorneys argued that government leaks justified overturning the conviction or dismissing the indictment.
Attorneys for targets of the subpoenas said Wilkes failed to show the leaks affected the verdict. Hoffman and Lisa Myers, a journalist for NBC News, also argued their testimony was protected by the California’s shield law and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns agreed that the leaks “had no material affect on the verdict.” The judge did not address the First Amendment argument in his eight-page ruling but acknowledged that his investigative powers were limited.
“Clearly, the public interest was at least temporarily compromised in this case by the irresponsible and illegal actions of one or more government agents who leaked secret grand jury information to news reporters,” Burns wrote.
Burns had harsh words for the U.S. Justice Department in Sacramento, which failed to identify sources of the leaks in an internal investigation. He said the work was “slipshod.”
A call to the U.S. attorney’s Sacramento office Monday night was not immediately returned.
An AP story published two weeks before the indictments were handed down quoted two unnamed government officials saying prosecutors planned to ask the grand jury to return fraud and conspiracy charges against Wilkes.
AP Associate General Counsel Dave Tomlin praised the ruling.
“The court came to the right conclusion that it didn’t have any reason to subpoena reporters in this case,” Tomlin said.
Guylyn Cummins, an attorney who represented Myers, the North County Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune, also welcomed the decision.
“I don’t think there were grounds for issuance of subpoenas,” she said.
Wilkes’ attorney, Mark Geragos, did not immediately respond to a message left on his cell phone.
A federal jury convicted Wilkes last month on 13 counts of conspiracy, bribery, money laundering and wire fraud in the only trial to emerge so far from one of the biggest corruption scandals ever in Congress. The individual counts carry maximum prison sentences ranging from five years to 20 years.
Cunningham pleaded guilty in November 2005 to taking $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors in exchange for millions of dollars in government contracts. The former Republican lawmaker from San Diego now is in federal prison serving a sentence of more than eight years.