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Transcript Sealed By Judge Sullivan In Second Rodriguez Case Still No Response To Inner City Press Objection

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive; Video, pics

SDNY COURTHOUSE, Oct 2 – Rafael Rodriguez after repeated involving in narcotics dealing in the United States was ordered to not return, if deported, without permission by US Judge Richard J. Sullivan. Then Rodriguez returned. And his sentencing submissions were withheld from the public before his re-sentencing on October 2 and will be unilaterally redacted after that. This while the entire sentencing of another Rodriguez, Jose Rodriguez of whom Inner City Press inquired in writing, remains entirely confidential. Reasonable minds can of course disagree. But transparency is lacking here.

On October 2 Inner City Press went to attend and report on the re-sentencing of Rafael Rodriguez by Judge Sullivan in Courtroom 23B at 3 pm. But the interpreter's microphone and headphones didn't work. The proceeding was delayed until 3:40 pm, during which delay Inner City Press was pointedly asked or told, "Must be a slow news day," meaning, Why are you covering this.

  It was NOT a slow news day -- Inner City Press juggled to cover the opening of the Honduras drug trial and the endgame in a Bed Stuy drug conspiracy trial higher profile than Sullivan's still intriguing US v. Ernest Murphy. But sentencing should not fly below the radar just because there's other news in the building.

  Judge Sullivan to his credit said as he often now does, These proceedings are open, anyone can just walk in and watch. But then he solicited redactions to sentencing submissions from the defense and also the government, and agreed to withhold the transcript of the proceeding for weeks, it seems. All without any opportunity to be heard, or response to Inner City Press' written submission about the earlier Rodriguez sentencing.

  The story of Rafael Rodriguez is compelling. He was caught and decided to cooperate, even though unlike for example rapper 6ix9ine's driver Jorge Rivera he was assured of deportation. And according to his lawyer, quite able, he initially obeyed and found a job in the Dominican Republic. But then some threats, all withheld in the record, began.

So Rafael Rodriguez passed from the Dominican Republic to Mexico and entered the US through the southern border. He was caught and sentenced to thirty months by a judge there.

  But Judge Sullivan said on October 2, that was for punishment, now for the breach of trust. After hearing from the parties, with many references to parts of the record withheld from the Press and public, Judge Sullivan imposed a sentence of a year and a day, so that Rodriguez can get 15% off. He'll still be under Supervised Release, unable to return.

 So if the danger in the Dominican Republic is so serious as to merit sealing and/or redaction of the record, why is it OK to return him there? When the government admitted on October 2, on the record if only on a delay, that there is not law enforcement rationale for sealing anything? We'll have more on this. And, we hope, this:

Back in the summer of 2019 a man who pleaded guilty to narcotics charges back in June 2005 was belatedly set to be sentenced on 26 July 2019 but then asked that it be delayed three weeks and sealed, in a joint request with the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Inner City Press was present; Circuit Judge Richard J. Sullivan corrected told Assistant US Attorney Nicholas W. Chiuchiolo that he should make his request to seal in writing.

  On August 3 Inner City Press wrote to Judge Sullivan, copying AUSA Chiuchiolo and defendant Jose Rodriguez' lawyer Peter Joseph Guadagnino, about and opposing the proposed sealing: "August 3, 2019 

Via e-mail to [Chambers] and counsel by e-mail 

The Honorable Richard J. Sullivan  United States District Court Southern District of New York  40 Foley Square  New York, NY 10007 

Re: United States v. Jose Rodriguez 05-cr-221 (RJS) 

Dear Judge Sullivan:     

I am a journalist interested in covering the above-captioned sentencing, as well as other criminal proceedings. As such I was in your courtroom 15A on July 26, 2019 when the defendant's counsel and the Government sought a sidebar (denied) and then that the sentencing be sealed.    

You directed them to make their requests to seal in writing on or before August 16, 2019, but seemed to indicate that even their requests could be made under seal.    

I am writing this letter, copying both counsel, to express my interest and that of Inner City Press in covering the sentencing and therefore in having an opportunity to review and if necessary respond to any requests to seal and exclude the press.    

On July 26 Your Honor cited U.S. v. Amodeo; reference is also made to United States v. Haller, 837 F.2d 84, 87 (2d Cir. 1988) and United States v. Alcantara, 396 F.3d 189, 196 (2d Cir. 2005). 

I note that as of August 3 there are no such requests to seal filed in the docket on PACER, not even any record of the sentencing submissions presumably submitted on July 11 and July 18, 2019.  Again, I am submitting this as a letter by email to Chambers and both counsel, and not as a motion opposing sealing, in part because I have not seen any request(s) for sealing.  

 I and Inner City Press will appreciate being informed when and what portions of any requests for filing will be available for viewing and possible response, and being apprised of rights to attend and cover the sentencing.  Respectfully,  Matthew Russell Lee Inner City Press 
cc: Nicholas W. Chiuchiolo, Assistant U.S. Attorney (by e-mail)  Peter Joseph Guadagnino, Esq. (by e-mail)"
  But by the close of Tuesday, August 6, when Judge Sullivan had announced the prospective partial sealing of his courtroom even for a trial, there was no response - not only directly from chambers or the District Executive, but from either counsel. Inner City Press will have more on this.

  Inner City Press initially voluntarily chose not to disclose even the case name. But it must have an opportunity to be heard on any possible sealing of the publicly announced sentencing which it went to attend and cover and was then pulled back.

   Tellingly, the sentencing submissions by the government due July 11 and by the Defendants due July 18 were not even listed in the docket as sealed documents, and still as of August 6 are not. It is as if they were never filed.

  Inner City Press will have more on this - see also @InnerCityPress and @SDNYLIVE.


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