UPDATED JANUARY 26, 11 P.M.
Since November, animal rights activist Carrie Feldman has been held in an Iowa jail for contempt of court for refusing to testify in a grand jury. Feldman was subpoenaed twice to the grand jury, and each time she refused to speak, opting to invoke the Fifth Amendment. The court granted her immunity, and jailed her when she continued to refuse.
Her former boyfriend, Scott DeMuth, also refused to testify and then was charged with conspiracy to commit animal terrorism for an incident that occurred at the University of Iowa in which 401 laboratory animals were freed from a lab, an incident for which the Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility. The incident occurred in 2004, when Feldman was 15 years old and Demuth was 17 years old.
Feldman’s lawyer has been working to get Feldman released on the grounds that the the statute of limitations has run out on the University of Iowa incident. Feldman was denied a release on December 16 by Judge John Jarvey, and on Friday, January 22nd, an appellate panel in Davenport, Iowa denied an appeal for Feldman’s release, according to a press release by Earth Warriors Are Okay (EWOK). The decision means that Feldman may remain in custody through the remainder of the grand jury’s service, another nine months. (Demuth has been released on bail.)
Feldman’s lawyer, Jordan Kushner, said that the way the courts were handling the case is problematic. He said that the prosecuting attorney, Cliff Cronk, was allowed to enter secret evidence against Feldman to prevent her release that even he, her lawyer could not see.
According to Kushner, one of the appellate judges wrote a very strong dissenting opinion against the court’s decision. However, at this time all court documents are sealed.
Michael Gans, a clerk for the United States Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit, said of the court documents: “It is not a public matter,” and that it “happens all the time,” for court documents to be sealed. “That’s a decision for the judge to make,” he said.
Meanwhile, Attorney Ben Rosenfeld in San Francisco has been working to unseal the documents.
[Full disclosure: I’m all in favor of open court records, and have signed on to that motion.]
On January 25 I attempted to access the docket for Carrie Feldman’s case through PACER, an on-line access to federal court records, only to read the message: “case under seal”. Because I was not permitted access, I decided to file a motion against the court. The motion that Ben Rosenfeld filed for me contains this paragraph:
A search of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure and this Court’s Local Rules reveal no rule or practice which provides for the automatic sealing of a recalcitrant witness appeal such as this one, nor any such rule requiring the blanket sealing of procedural appeals related to grand jury matters. Quite the contrary, opinions in grand jury related appeals, published and unpublished and often titled “In re Grand Jury…,” are legion and abound throughout the public record in all of the appellate Circuits including the Eighth.