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UNITED NATIONS v. PARTON

United States District Court for the District of Columbia


May 16, 2005.

UNITED NATIONS on behalf of the INDEPENDENT INQUIRY COMMITTEE INTO THE UNITED NATIONS OIL-FOR-FOOD PROGRAM, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT H. PARTON, Defendant.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICARDO URBINA, District Judge

GRANTING THE PLAINTIFF'S EMERGENCY MOTION

On May 9, 2005, the United Nations ("UN"), acting on behalf of the Independent Inquiry Committee into the United Nations Oil-for-Food Program ("IIC"), requested emergency injunctive relief to prevent former IIC investigator, Robert H. Parton, from responding to congressional subpoenas requiring testimony and the production of documents that Parton allegedly took from the UN. The parties reached a compromise that day and consented to the court entering an order enjoining the defendant from disclosing information that he obtained in the course of his work for the IIC.*fn1

Hovering over this case is a political storm the court would rather not enter, a precarious competition by various committees, congressional and otherwise, to figure out exactly what happened at the UN's controversial Oil-for-Food Program. See generally Pl.'s Mot. for T.R.O., Decl. of Susan M. Ringler ΒΆΒΆ 4-16 (discussing efforts to investigate allegations of impropriety at the Oil-for Food Program).

  The politics of the moment notwithstanding, the court must now address the plaintiff's emergency motion to modify the temporary restraining order to allow the plaintiff access to and inspection of the materials that the defendant allegedly took from the UN and provided to the House International Relations Committee ("HIRC").*fn2 Pl.'s Emergency Mot. ("Pl.'s Mot.") at 1. Such a request would typically resolve itself through discovery,*fn3 but the plaintiff wants this relief immediately so that it can see exactly what the defendant has taken from the plaintiff and, more importantly, whether the plaintiff needs to notify confidential informants, "including residents of a highly volatile part of the world," that their identities may be revealed. Id.

  As authority for its request, the plaintiff cites to the court's equitable powers "to do what is necessary and appropriate to achieve justice in the individual case." Id. at 3 (quoting Friends for All Children, Inc. v. Lockheed Aircraft Corp., 746 F.2d 816, 830 (D.C. Cir. 1984)). The defendant responds that the materials at issue do not contain information that jeopardizes the safety of any sources (and thus, that the plaintiff will suffer no harm if the court denies the relief the plaintiff requests), that the HIRC (to whom the plaintiff provided a copy of the materials) has agreed to protect all sensitive information, and that the plaintiff is attempting "to gather discovery without following the rules or any order of this court." Def.'s Opp'n at 4-5, 7.

  As to the defendant's first two arguments, the court finds instructive the plaintiff's comment that

[i]t is simply not enough to say, "don't worry, the investigator who falsely told the IIC that he was not removing confidential material, who breached his confidentiality agreement, who took no steps to inform the IIC of the HIRC's subpoenas, and who negotiated an agreement with the HIRC that fully protects his interests (but not the IIC's), has assured us that we need not be concerned."
Pl.'s Reply at 3. Without taking a position on those assertions, the court believes that the UN is indeed the party best suited to provide assurances to the international community and to the sources in its investigations. Whatever the defendant and his counsel may be able to declare in an affidavit or state in an agreement with a third party, such gestures are inadequate substitutes for the thorough review of the materials that the plaintiff needs to conduct to determine how best to proceed. The court takes very seriously the plaintiff's claim that the lives and safety of certain IIC witnesses may be at risk, e.g., Pl.'s Mot. for T.R.O. at 3, and there is no time left for the parties to work out an arrangement with the HIRC for viewing the HIRC's copies of the documents,*fn4 assuming that such a review would even suffice, see Pl.'s Reply at 4.

  Finally, with regard to the defendant's argument that the plaintiff is sidestepping discovery, the court acknowledges that the plaintiff's request is unusual. But the facts of this rapidly evolving case are quite unusual, and the court has yet to see any reason to delay providing the relief the plaintiff seeks. The court continues to hope that the parties informally and efficiently resolve this case without further judicial intervention.*fn5 As to the instant motion, however, it is this 16th day of May, 2005,

  ORDERED that, by no later than 12:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 16, 2005, the defendant shall provide the plaintiff the opportunity to inspect and copy all materials that the defendant allegedly copied, removed or otherwise (directly or indirectly) obtained from the IIC; and it is

  FURTHER ORDERED that the temporary restraining order in this case is modified to allow for the above inspection and copying.

  SO ORDERED.


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