Documents have been sealed without explanation in a federal criminal case in Sacramento involving distribution of drugs, and the judge refused to consider The Sacramento Bee’s objection to the irregular actions.
U.S. District Court Judge Troy L. Nunley on Thursday said the court’s rules were followed in sealing the documents in the case against Rodney Lynn Braun and Robert Larry Moore for conspiring to distribute Dilaudid and morphine, and would not hear The Bee’s protest that the rules were not followed.
The Bee argued that the actions did not comply with the government’s sealing powers and the court’s obligation to observe its own rules.
Sealing documents is intended to protect defendants and facilitate their assistance to the government. Federal prosecutors in Sacramento have maintained that public identification of defendants who cooperate against other defendants and people under investigation makes them susceptible to violent retaliation by fellow prison inmates.
The agreements of the two defendants in the case are under seal, even though one defendant will serve no time in prison and the other defendant has no cooperation agreement.
Nunley sternly lectured a reporter that notice of a motion to seal the documents was filed by the prosecution on the public docket and that he issued a public order granting the motion, which is the procedure required by the court’s rules. Those rules provide that motions to seal documents, in addition to the documents themselves, are sealed if the court orders.
Nunley said The Bee should have filed an objection at the time the notice was filed. He also said “all the parties” agreed to sealing the documents. However, no notice was filed and no order issued, according to the case’s docket.
Defense attorney Shari Rusk told The Bee that she did not agree to the secrecy and did not know her client’s plea agreement was filed under seal until she was informed by a reporter earlier this week.
Braun and Moore were charged in a federal grand jury indictment in August 2013 and pleaded guilty in October.
Moore, 60, of Bristol, Va., who agreed to cooperate with federal law enforcement and has already been sentenced, will not go to prison. He was sentenced Feb. 25 by Nunley to 13 months in custody, essentially the same amount of time he spent in jail after he violated the conditions of his pretrial release. Responsibility for the three years of post-release supervision imposed by Nunley was transferred to probation authorities in Virginia.
Braun, 57, of Oroville, has not been sentenced and has no cooperation agreement. He is hospitalized with serious medical problems. He was scheduled to be sentenced Thursday by Nunley, but he was not in court. Rusk earlier asked the judge to sentence him in absentia “due to his immobility and the level of pain he suffers,” but that request was still pending Thursday and the matter was put over to May 26.
Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189