By David Streitfeld
Monica S. Lewinsky has agreed to provide independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr with information about her book purchases, resolving a First Amendment dispute between Starr and the Dupont Circle bookstore Kramerbooks.
"We've accomplished what we set out to do, which is protect the rights of privacy of our customers," said Bill Kramer, co-owner of the popular store and cafe.
The former White House intern, the central figure in Starr's investigation of President Clinton, has previously made cooperative gestures toward Starr, including allowing her apartment to be searched and providing handwriting samples.
In late March, Starr subpoenaed Kramerbooks and the Georgetown outlet of the Barnes & Noble chain, asking for details about at least 16 purchases made by Lewinsky. The former intern reportedly told her one-time friend Linda R. Tripp that she gave Clinton the phone-sex novel "Vox," and Starr's team was seeking to corroborate that statement.
On April 6, Lewinsky lawyer Nathaniel H. Speights told U.S. District Court Judge Norma Holloway Johnson that his client would be willing to give the information to Starr.
"In March, April, May, it was crystal clear that Lewinsky's position was the same: She was willing to give the information," said Kramerbooks lawyer Carol O'Riordan. "And it was crystal clear to my co-counsel and myself that [Starr] was refusing to go and ask for it."
Johnson ruled in early April that Starr had to show a "compelling need" for the information before he violated the First Amendment rights of Lewinsky and the bookstores. This led to the Barnes & Noble subpoena being dropped and the Kramerbooks subpoena narrowed. Kramer had been planning an appeal when yesterday's deal was worked out.
"This agreement allows us to avoid the time and expense of the appeal," Kramer said.
Kramerbooks' challenge to Starr drew support from a wide range of retailing, publishing and free speech sources. Yesterday, those groups pronounced themselves pleased with the case's resolution.
"From the beginning we believed the subpoena was an example of gross prosecutorial overreaching that seriously threatened core First Amendment values," said Louis Bograd of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"We've established an important precedent that will stop prosecutors from fishing around in bookstore records just because they want to," said Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression.
If Kramerbooks' appeal had gone forward, there was some doubt it would have won. "Establishing a legal basis for bookstores' privilege would have been a tough sell," said Robert O'Neil, a University of Virginia law professor. He noted that there was no constitutional protection for journalists seeking to withhold identity of sources.
Still, O'Neil said, "the next time a grand jury or a prosecutor seeks to compel such information from a bookseller, he can look back and cite this as a time when the customer turned out not only to be the appropriate source for the information, but an entirely adequate one."
In another legal battle over evidence, the Justice Department filed the final brief in its effort to persuade the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to stop Starr from bringing Secret Service officers before a grand jury. The Justice Department is appealing a lower court ruling that the Secret Service enjoys no legal right of confidentiality.
Staff writer Peter Baker contributed to this report.
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