Could "Sealed v. Sealed" be a Rove indictment?

Maybe so, but what about the 30 other "Sealed v. Sealed" criminal cases filed in Washington this year?

Published June 12, 2006 3:55PM (EDT)

Truthout is up with a new story on the "Karl Rove has already been indicted" beat. In it, Jason Leopold says a criminal case styled "Sealed v. Sealed" appeared on the docket of the U.S. District Court in Washington during the same week in May that Patrick Fitzgerald supposedly told Rove that he had been indicted in the Valerie Plame case.

Leopold writes: "When told about the 'Sealed vs. Sealed' indictment ... legal experts became intrigued about the case because they say that most federal criminal indictments are filed under 'U.S. vs. Sealed,' and that they rarely come across federal criminal indictments titled 'Sealed vs. Sealed,' which to them suggests the prosecutor felt it necessary to add an extra layer of secrecy to an indictment to keep it out of public view."

Leopold proceeds to quote a "former federal criminal attorney" as saying: "The question here is that nobody who I have spoken to -- top criminal attorneys, law professors, etc. -- is aware of the left part of the case title having been sealed."

Oh, really?

We checked the U.S. District Court's database this morning. Approximately 158 criminal cases have been filed since the beginning of the year, and approximately 31 of them -- or one out of every five -- have been styled "Sealed v. Sealed." And each and every one of these "Sealed v. Sealed" cases contains exactly the same description -- "Case is not available to the public" -- as the one provided for 1-06-cr-128, the case that Leopold suggests may be Rove's.

We asked Truthout's Marc Ash whether he was aware that 30 other 2006 cases carry the "Sealed v. Sealed" designation and whether the existence of such cases doesn't undercut Leopold's latest story. "Well, I think we're into semantics," he said in an e-mail response. "We say 'unusual,' you say 'about one out of every five.' Obviously we've taken a keen interest in '06 cr 128.'"

Update: Until earlier this year, sealed criminal cases did not appear at all in the public database of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, a practice that prompted protests from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which said that 18 percent of the criminal cases filed in the court between 2000 and 2005 were essentially hidden from public view. In response to such concerns, the District Court altered its system earlier this year so that at least the existence of each sealed case is now noted in the public database. Under the new system, every sealed case appears in the database with the designation "Sealed v. Sealed" regardless of the caption the prosecutor might have used when the case was filed. Thus, contrary to the expert opinion included in the Truthout report, there appears to be no significance at all to the fact that case 1-06-cr-128 bears the designation "Sealed v. Sealed" rather than "U.S. v. Sealed."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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