Sealed documents linked to searches of California defense contractors in the Pentagon fraud investigation should be opened for public scrutiny, lawyers argued Wednesday in a federal appeals court.
Newspapers in Southern California, a television station and one TV network asked three judges of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to open FBI affidavits used to obtain search warrants in the two-year Pentagon procurement probe.
Los Angeles searches occurred at Teledyne Electronics in Newbury Park, Litton Data Systems in Van Nuys, Northrop in Newbury Park, at the home of defense consultant Fred H. Lackner in Woodland Hills and in San Diego at Cubic Corp.
There are currently 44 search warrants and affidavits involving at least 16 cities around the country spelling out the government’s suspicions.
Joining the Los Angeles Times in the case are Copley Press, publisher of the San Diego Union and Tribune and Daily Breeze of Los Angeles County, as well as KCST-TV Channel 39 and NBC Inc.
There exists a “right of access (to the documents) so the public can see how the investigation was executed, why it was done and whether it was proper,” said attorney Rex S. Heinke, representing Times Mirror Co., publisher of The Times.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Joseph Aronica of Alexandria, Va., countered: “The government has no great dispute with the news media. It is simply a matter of timing. The media wants the information now. That will severely impact the investigation.”
Judge Arthur Alarcon asked Aronica how a judge was to know when it was reasonable to disclose the information. Aronica suggested that the government prosecutors would inform the court when the investigation was closed.
“We should just trust the government?” Judge Mary Schroeder asked.
The court made no ruling Wednesday but will issue a written decision later.