The Chauvin leaks: Judge Schiltz’s order

Star Tribune reporter Rochelle Olson covered Minnesota District Court Judge Patrick Schiltz’s show-cause order triggered by apparent leaks of grand jury information to the New York Times and the Star Tribune in this May 21 story. The show-cause order implicates Star Tribune reporter Andy Mannix’s April 29 story reporting that federal civil rights indictments were forthcoming against Derek Chauvin et al. The indictment against Chauvin and his former colleagues was unsealed on May 7.

Insofar as Mannix’s story reported the then forthcoming federal indictment, it was based on a single unidentified source whose affiliation Mannix did not even hint at. Mannix, moreover, gave readers no idea why his source’s identity could not be disclosed. I noted at the time that the professional misconduct involving the leak conflicted with the excited tone of Mannix’s story.

Judge Schiltz’s May 5 order was not linked in Olson’s story. I tracked down Judge Schiltz’s order via the PACER filing system used by the federal courts and have embedded it below via Scribd. I urge all interested readers to check it out themselves.

In his order Judge Schiltz reveals that he has been supervising the Blue Grand Jury since it was impaneled in June 2019. The Blue Grand Jury must have handed up the federal indictment of Chauvin et al. The order provides this background (footnotes to the cited articles omitted):

On February 23, 2021, the New York Times published an article headlined “With New Grand Jury, Justice Department Revives Investigation Into Death of George Floyd.” On April 29, 2021, the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune published an article headlined “Feds plan to indict Chauvin, other three ex‐officers on civil rights charges.” Both articles provide reason to believe that “matter[s] occurring before the grand jury” were disclosed to reporters in violation of Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(e).

This is the heart of the order:

“A knowing violation of Rule 6, or of any guidelines jointly issued by the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence under Rule 6, may be punished as a contempt of court.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(e)(7). Courts are authorized to initiate criminal contempt proceedings and, if necessary to the interests of justice, to appoint a private attorney to act as a special prosecutor in those contempt proceedings. Fed. R. Crim. P. 42(a)(2); Young v. U.S. ex rel. Vuitton et Fils S.A., 481 U.S. 787, 793 (1987).

To assist the Court in determining how to proceed with respect to the apparent violation of Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(e), the Court will order the United States and the State of Minnesota to provide the Court with a list of every person to whom a matter occurring before the Blue Grand Jury was disclosed by an employee or agent of either sovereign. The Court will also order the United States to show cause why it is not in the interest of justice for this Court to appoint independent counsel to investigate and possibly prosecute criminal contempt charges relating to the apparent disclosures of matters occurring before the Blue Grand Jury.

This is serious business. One might think that it calls for some explanation on the part of the Star Tribune. Olson herself offered this, which was tweeted out by Mannix himself:

Star Tribune Managing Editor Suki Dardarian said, “I have no comment on the court’s actions, but I will say that the Star Tribune stands resolutely behind its pledge not to reveal the identities of anonymous sources.”

Dardarian’s statement suggests that, if called as a witness in the investigation, Mannix won’t be talking. The law affords Mannix no immunity from compulsory process. If Mannix were called as a witness and refused to testify, he is the one who would be subject to serving time for contempt of court, not Dardarian. Ask my friend Judy Miller, or read her memoir The Story.

I wrote tawdry Suki yesterday afternoon:

Dear Ms. Dardarian: I write for the site Power Line and have been covering the Chauvin prosecution and related cases. I have written a lot about the fair trial issues. I was struck by the jaunty tone of Andy Mannix’s April 29 story that is part of the investigation undertaken by Judge Schiltz.

News of the planned indictment reported in Mannix’s story relied on one unnamed source (“a source said”) with no affiliation even hinted. No reason for protecting the source’s anonymity was given in the story. Judge Schiltz’s show-cause order asserts that Mannix’s story provides reason to believe that “matter[s] occurring before the grand jury” were disclosed in violation of Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(e). But for Judge Schiltz’s show-cause order, your readers would have no idea of the professional misconduct and possible contempt of court underlying the leak.

Your quoted statement in Rochelle Olson’s story relates solely to the Star Tribune’s commitment to protect its sources. The interests protected by grand jury secrecy bear in part on the rights of third parties that Mannix’s Star Tribune story arguably compromised. The federal civil rights indictment was bound to become public in short order in any event. I wonder what public purpose the story served and how your editorial policies take them into account.

I intend to write about this tomorrow. I would appreciate any comment you may have for public consumption.

Thank you for your courtesies.

I don’t anticipate hearing back from Dardarian. If I do, I will post her response in full.

Blue Grandjury by Scott Johnson on Scribd

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