Judge: No secret arguments in surveillance case

/ Source: The Associated Press

The city must disclose its arguments about why documents on police surveillance of protesters before the 2004 Republican National Convention should be kept confidential, a judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV in Manhattan said the court won't consider a sealed affidavit by David Cohen, the New York Police Department's commissioner for intelligence.

"Permitting the submission of secret argument is antithetical to our adversary system of justice," Francis wrote, ruling that a revised statement by Cohen must be submitted publicly.

The New York Civil Liberties Union is suing on behalf of some of more than 1,800 people arrested at the convention.

Cohen said in the declaration dated Dec. 7 that some information ordered disclosed by Francis in August could reveal the identities of undercover officers and confidential informants. It could also disclose methods of operation that would undermine law enforcement, Cohen argued.

NYCLU: Civil rights at stake
Francis said in his ruling that Cohen could refer to secret documents without revealing sensitive information, since the magistrate judge has viewed the documents himself.

Gail Donoghue, special counsel in the city law office, said: "We are reviewing the ruling and considering all possible legal actions."

Christopher Dunn, associate legal director at the NYCLU, said the ruling is another example of the federal court making it "clear that the details of the NYPD's aggressive convention tactics cannot be kept behind closed doors."

He added: "If the NYPD wants to rely on its political-surveillance operation to defend its tactics, the department must disclose the details of that operation."

The NYCLU is seeking police records for the lawsuits stemming from the four-day convention at Madison Square Garden, where President Bush accepted his party's nomination for a second term in office. The NYCLU said the arrests violated the protesters' civil rights.