Prosecutors invoked a law used in terrorism and government espionage cases in asking a judge Thursday to bar jurors at the trial of a former Coca-Cola secretary charged in a trade secrets theft case from disclosing to others confidential materials they are presented.
In the unusual request, the government also asked that any exhibits containing Coca-Cola trade secrets that are entered into evidence during Joya Williams’ trial be sealed by the court.
The move comes even though reporters will be in the courtroom and will be free to report what they hear and see. The government said sealing the exhibits would “avoid further display and copying by the general public.”
The government said in its motion that “initially” it is not seeking to close certain portions of the trial or to exclude the public from attending. It’s unclear from the motion if that position could change later.
The government cited the Classified Information Procedures Act, passed three decades ago to combat a phenomenon known as “graymail.”
Defendants charged with spying would try to force the government to drop the charges by threatening to expose classified U.S. military and intelligence secrets on the witness stand. Attorneys say the law was meant to let judges sort out the classified information behind closed doors and determine what the defense genuinely needed to make public.
The law is often used in terrorism and government espionage cases to keep certain things from being publicly disclosed.
“The government submits that adopting CIPA-like procedures to determine the necessity of trade secrets’ disclosure would be a reasonable procedure to protect the defendant’s and the victim’s rights,” prosecutors said in their request in the Coca-Cola case.
Prosecutors said they are concerned that Williams’ lawyer will seek to introduce confidential Coca-Cola information during the trial. They are asking the judge to limit the lawyer’s ability to do that.
But Williams’ lawyer, Janice Singer, said the government’s requests violate her client’s right to a public trial.
“The first issue is to protect the defendant. The other issue is for the public to know,” Singer said, referring to the protection against closed proceedings.
Williams is charged with conspiring to steal trade secrets from Coca-Cola in an effort to sell them to rival Pepsi.
Two co-defendants have already pleaded guilty in the case, and at least one is expected to testify against Williams, who worked for the company’s global brand director at its headquarters.
Williams, Edmund Duhaney and Ibrahim Dimson were indicted July 11 on federal conspiracy charges. The three were accused of stealing new product samples and confidential documents from Coca-Cola and trying to sell them to Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo Inc.
The alleged plans were foiled after Pepsi warned The Coca-Cola Co.
Williams has since been fired from her job at Atlanta-based Coca-Cola. She has pleaded not guilty.