A federal judge has thrown a wrench into the plot of the government’s prosecution of more than 500 Capitol riot suspects by denying the Justice Department’s request to disclose grand jury documents with a contractor hired to arrange the huge amounts of video, social media, email, and other evidence in the cases.
The ruling Friday could complicate and drag out the prosecutions by requiring government personnel to be more involved in aspects of the process of sharing evidence with defense attorneys.
In May, the Justice Department agreed to pay Deloitte Financial Advisory Services $6.1 million to set up a database containing various kinds of materials the FBI has tracked down in connection with the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, as lawmakers were planning to certify the electoral vote returns.
In a 54-page decision, Washington-based U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell rejected the government’s arguments that the contractor’s staff would qualify as the equivalent of government employees under the secrecy provisions of grand jury rules. She also said prosecutors had failed to demonstrate that there was a “particularized need” to give Deloitte’s personnel access to the grand jury materials.
“The term ‘government personnel’ is best construed, in accord with the bulk of the district court case law, as including only employees of public governmental entities,” wrote Howell, who oversees grand jury matters as the D.C.-based court’s chief judge.
“Deloitte, a private firm contracted by the government on a non-exclusive basis, is a private rather than a public governmental entity, and its staff are employees of the firm rather than the government. [The grand jury secrecy rule] thus does not allow disclosure of grand jury matters to Deloitte and its employees,” Howell added.
[…] “As precedent makes clear, a defendant charged with offenses stemming from the Capitol attack likely faces an uphill battle in seeking disclosure of the materials presented to the grand jury that indicted him,” the chief judge wrote. “Yet under the government’s rationale and the two-step disclosure process it envisions, Deloitte, a private firm, would gain greater access to grand jury materials in all the Capitol attack cases than any individual defendant is entitled to receive in his own case.”