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N.Y. Protest Rally Arrest Documents Ordered Disclosed Despite Protective Order

New York state resident Michael Schiller petitioned to obtain confidential documents bound by a protective order regarding numerous arrests during a 2004 Republican National Convention (RNC) protest. The New York Times (Times) filed a motion to modify the protective order to require a good cause showing for present or future nondisclosure. The disclosure of most of the documents was ordered with redactions, but the court declined to modify the protective order.

Several hundred arrests at the RNC protest spurred legal actions and subsequent document requests. The City of New York (City) obtained a protective order for some of the documents and video footage of the incident. Subsequent document request denials led to an agreement between the parties that stipulated to court intervention upon nondisclosure disagreements. The City then declared all of the documents confidential, and Schiller moved to challenge the blanket denial. The Times moved to require a good cause showing for any nondisclosures. The City claimed that law enforcement and deliberative process privileges exempted the disclosures and that the protective order could not be altered.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York held that the plaintiffs were not attempting to alter the order but were merely complying with the agreed stipulation for court intervention. The district court further held that the City had failed to meet its burden for justifying confidentiality, and noted the agreement terms could be renegotiated by the parties. Additional nondisclosure determinations were still pending; this was not a final ruling. See: Schiller v. City of New York, U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 1:04-cv-07922-RJS-JCF (Jan. 19, 2007).

Following this ruling the City withheld intelligence documents prepared by the New York City Police Department, claiming the production of same would prejudice the jury and reveal sensitive internal practices. The City further argued that the documents "were not written for consumption by the general public" and contained filtered information for intelligence officers' analysis, which could be misleading.

The district court held the City had failed to show that any prejudicial effect through public disclosure would result in serious injury. See: Schiller v. City of New York, U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 1:04-cv-07922-RJS-JCF (May 4, 2007).

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Related legal case

Schiller v. City of New York