Orange County prosecutors Thursday filed a motion demanding full redaction of personal identifying information of witnesses, victims and jailhouse informants in a lengthy legal document seeking to dismiss the death penalty for an accused double murderer.
Prosecutors have raised the issue in the case against Daniel Patrick Wozniak, who is seeking to have prosecutors thrown off the case and have the death penalty dismissed based on allegations of outrageous governmental misconduct in the use of jailhouse snitches.
The motion accuses Wozniak’s attorneys of exposing witnesses, victims and informants to danger by having their personal identifying information available in a 754-page motion with 26,000 pages of exhibits.
Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders defended the way the motion was filed on Aug. 26 in previous hearings, claiming he intended to file it under seal.
Sanders, however, did not file a declaration seeking a seal on the exhibits until Aug. 28, according to court records.
On Aug. 31, the files, which were in multiple binders and boxes, were taken into Orange County Superior Court John Conley’s courtroom from a clerk’s office in the Central Justice Center, where the public could request the documents. A hearing on the request to seal some of the exhibits was held on Sept. 2.
Conley asked Sanders if he meant to request a seal on Exhibit B, which contains information gathered when Sanders was seeking the same legal remedies in the case against Scott Dekraai, the worst mass killer in the county’s history. Sanders said that exhibit should also be sealed.
At the Sept. 2 hearing, Conley also wondered if the Orange County Register had a copy of the exhibits containing the sensitive information based on an article the newspaper ran on Aug. 27. Sanders said the paper only had a copy of the motion, not the exhibits.
Conley then ordered some exhibits sealed and the redacting of sensitive information in other court papers.
At a later hearing last month, prosecutors noted defense attorneys had missed multiple necessary redactions, prompting Conley to provisionally seal all of the exhibits.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy argued in today’s brief that the documents include Social Security numbers, birth dates, telephone numbers, driver’s licenses numbers, home addresses and other personally identifying information of defendants, witnesses and victims of violent crimes.
Murphy argued “the entirety of this information was unsealed and available to the public for seven full days before the defense took any action.”
Defense attorneys ran afoul of state rules of court on how to file a document with the intent to have all or parts of it sealed, Murphy argued. They also violated Marsy’s Law, which gives victims various rights in criminal cases, Murphy argued.
Whittier Law School professor Martin Pritikin said attorneys are required to file redacted and unredacted versions of a document when all or parts of it are to be considered for a seal. Only a judge can seal a document, so attorneys must also file a motion seeking to have it sealed.
“Until the motion is ruled on the public is not able to get access to it,” Pritikin said.
Murphy also argued that Sanders took some of the exhibits from the Dekraai case, which were ordered sealed by another judge, and filed them in unredacted form in the Wozniak motion.
Pritikin said an attorney cannot carry over an order to seal from one judge to another.
“It sounds like the unredacted versions of the documents were filed and for a brief period of time may have been publicly available,” Pritikin said. “And the better practice… is if you’re considering filing something under seal you should not make any unredacted version available to the public.”
Pritikin added “as a practical matter anyone getting access to these documents is probably very low.”
However, “as a theoretical matter” Marsy’s Law prevents the disclosure of “sensitive information,” Pritikin said.
“I understand why it happened the way it did — and the positions both parties have taken were reasonable at the time,” Pritikin said.
“And they promptly moved to remedy the problem. Now the haggling is over the scope of the redaction.”
On Friday, both sides will argue how much more needs to be redacted from the documents.
Murphy further argued in his brief that Sanders should have known better since the same issue popped up in the Dekraai case in early 2013. In fact, a Register reporter had viewed the unredacted documents filed in that case before Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals could seal them.
“Unfortunately, it appears this valuable lesson regarding public exposure of sensitive material had been forgotten by the time the defense filed their motion in Wozniak,” Murphy wrote.
Last week, Sanders told City News Service that the prosecution’s complaints are, “the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard… This is a non- story created by the District Attorney’s Office.”
Wozniak is accused of shooting a friend, Samuel Herr, after luring him to the Los Alamitos Joint Forces military base in May 2010.
Prosecutors allege he then used the victim’s cellphone to trick another friend, Juri Kibuishi, into going to Herr’s Costa Mesa apartment, where the defendant gunned her down and then made it look like Herr killed her during a sexual assault. Wozniak then allegedly returned to the base to dismember Herr.
Wozniak allegedly committed the crimes to steal from the victims to pay for his wedding and honeymoon, prosecutors said.
—City News Service
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