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United States v. Cicale

United States District Court, E.D. New York

January 10, 2018



          NICHOLAS G. GARAUFIS, United States District Judge.

         Non-party Jerry Capeci, a journalist, moves the court to unseal certain documents in the above-captioned case. (Capeci Mot. to Unseal ("Mot.") (Dkt. 1416).) For the reasons stated below, Capeci's motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant Dominick Cicale is a former captain in the Bonanno organized crime family. (Gov't Sentencing Mem. (Dkt. 1341) at 8.) In 2005, the Government arrested Defendant and, in a series of indictments, charged him with murder in aid of racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, use of a firearm in connection with crimes of violence, racketeering (including predicate acts of loansharking, bookmaking, robbery conspiracy, and assault in aid of racketeering) and racketeering conspiracy. (Indictment (Dkt. 1) ¶¶ 23-29; see also Mar. 22, 2005, 1st Superseding Indictment (Dkt. 22); June 23, 2005, 2d Superseding Indictment (Dkt. 65); Nov. 2, 2005, 3d Superseding Indictment (Dkt. 108) ¶¶ 25-26, 34-36, 46-49, 52-54, 65-66, 67-70, 81-82.) Cicale faced the death penalty on the charge of murder in aid of racketeering. See 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(5); United States v. Basciano. 384 Fed.Appx. 28, 32 (2d Cir. 2010) (summary order). (Gov't Sentencing Mem. at 10.)

         In January 2006, Defendant began cooperating with the Government. (Gov't Sentencing Mem. at 11.) Shortly thereafter, Defendant pleaded guilty to a four-count information charging him with two counts of murder in aid of racketeering, one count of racketeering conspiracy, and one count of assault in aid of racketeering. (Superseding Information (Dkt. 158); Gov't Sentencing Mem. at 11-12.) As the Government detailed in its motion for downward departure pursuant to Section 5K1.1 of the Sentencing Guidelines, Cicale substantially assisted the investigation and prosecution of members of the Bonanno and other La Cosa Nostra crime families, including by testifying or preparing to testify against Bonanno family acting bosses Vincent Basciano and Michael Mancuso and Gambino family boss John A. Gotti. (Gov't Sentencing Mem. at 13-57; Sentencing Hr'g Tr. (Dkt. 1356) 6:9-10:23, 23:2-24:17.) According to the Government, Defendant's "information and testimony... led to the prosecution of more than a dozen inducted members of the Bonanno family" and was "particularly critical" to disrupting the organization following the incarceration of longtime boss Joseph Massino. (Gov't Sentencing Mem. at 1-2.)

         Partly in recognition of Defendant's extensive cooperation, the court granted the Government's motion for a downward departure and sentenced Defendant to a ten-year term of imprisonment, followed by a five-year term of supervised release (including a condition of 1, 000 hours of community service), rather than the life sentence that the Sentencing Guidelines advised. (Sentencing Hr'g Tr. 5:15-19, 16:18-28:25.) Having completed his term of imprisonment, Defendant's current whereabouts are not, the Government avers, a matter of public record. (Gov't Ltr. in Resp. to the Mot. ("Gov't Resp.") (Dkt. 1424) at 1.)

         Capeci is a journalist who has written extensively about La Cosa Nostra. He publishes "Gang Land, " a "weekly online column about organized crime" on his website, Capeci asks the court to unseal three documents that are implicitly referenced by the public docket entry for the Government's December 9, 2014, Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Vacate or Alter Sentence (the "Government's Opposition") (Gov't Opp'n to Def. Mot to Vacate or Alter Sentence ("Gov't Opp'n") (Dkt. 1379)): (1) "a motion by [Defendant] to set aside or vacate his sentence"; (2) "the government letter of opposition to that motion"; and (3) "any decision [the court] may have made concerning" those filings. (Mot. at 1, 4.)

         The court has identified two documents that are responsive to Capeci's motion. The first is a one-page pro se letter to the court in which Defendant, citing health problems and the risks posed by working around other felons, asks the court to modify his conditions of supervised release by vacating his community-service requirement. (See Def. July 25, 2014, Mot. to Vacate or Alter Sentence ("Def. Mot.") (Dkt. Number Pending).) Alternatively, Defendant proposes that the court allow him to fulfill this requirement by performing community service through a program of his own choosing. (Id.) The second is the Government's Opposition, which notes that "it is unclear how participation in [community service programs recommended by Defendant's probation officer] would compromise the defendant's safety" and advises that placement with Defendant's requested community-service organization "would be inadvisable and inappropriate." (Gov't Opp'n at 2.) No. separate document reflects the court's decision on Defendant's motion, as the court simply denied that motion in a notation on Defendant's letter. (Def. Mot.)

         After Capeci moved to unseal these documents, the court directed the Government and Defendant to respond to Capeci's motion by either (1) consenting to having the requested documents unsealed or (2) explaining why the documents should be kept under seal and proposing redacted public versions of each. (May 17, 2017, Order (Dkt. 1418).) The Government has responded to that order; Defendant has not. (Gov't Resp.; Gov't Sealed Ex Parte Ltr. (Dkt. 1425) (proposing redactions).) In its response, the Government argues that, to balance the public interest in access to the documents in question with the risk that full disclosure would endanger Defendant, the court should unseal the documents in question subject to redaction of "certain information that could reveal [Defendant's] relocation area, which is not otherwise known to the public." (Gov't Resp. at 1.)


         "Federal courts employ two related but distinct presumptions in favor of public access to court proceedings and records: a strong form rooted in the First Amendment and a slightly weaker form based in federal common law." Newsdav LLC v. Ctv. of Nassau, 730 F.3d 156, 163 (2d Cir. 2013); see also In re NBC Universal. Inc.. 426 F.Supp.2d 49, 56 (E.D.N.Y. 2006) ("The First Amendment demands broader disclosure than the common law." (emphasis omitted)).

         A. First Amendment

         Under the First Amendment, the public has a qualified right of access to criminal trials and to other criminal proceedings that "considerations of experience and logic" dictate should presumptively be open to the public. Press-Enterprise Co. v. Super. Ct. of Calif, for Riverside Ctv., 478 U.S. 1, 7-13 (1986). The First Amendment qualified public right of access is not limited to the right to attend proceedings, but also covers many court documents. Newsdav. 730 F.3d at 163-64. In determining whether the First Amendment right of access attaches to a particular document, the court takes two approaches. Under the first, in line with the "experience and logic" test prescribed by Press-Enterprise, the court considers "both whether the documents have historically been open to the press and general public and whether public access plays a significant positive role in the functioning of the particular process in question." Id. at 164 (quoting Lusosch v. Pyramid Co. of Onondaga, 435 F.3d 110, 120 (2d Cir. 2006)). Under the second, if the document "relate[s] to judicial proceedings covered by the First Amendment right, " the court "asks whether the documents at issue 'are derived from or are a necessary corollary of the capacity to attend the relevant proceedings.'" Id. (quoting Lugosch, 435 F.3d at 120).

         The First Amendment right of access is qualified, not absolute. Even when the First Amendment right of access applies, "[proceedings may be closed and, by analogy, documents may be sealed if 'specific, on the record findings are made demonstrating that closure is essential to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest.'" In re N.Y. Times Co., 828 F.2d 110, 116 (2d Cir. 1987) (quoting Press-Enterprise, 478 U.S. at 13-14). Compelling interests warranting closure of a courtroom-and, by extension, sealing of court documents- "may include the defendant's right to a fair trial; privacy interests of the defendant, victims or other persons; the integrity of significant government activities entitled to confidentiality, such as ongoing undercover investigations or detection devices; and danger to persons or property." United States v. Doe,63 F.3d 121, 128 (2d Cir. 1995) (citations, internal quotation marks, and alterations omitted). "The more extensive a request for sealing, 'the greater must be the gravity of the ...

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