Maryland State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli will not have to make public an index of documents and witnesses in connection with the grand jury investigation of wiretapping charges against Linda R. Tripp, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
The appeals court decision overturned a Baltimore County judge's order that Montanarelli produce the index, requested by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch. That group has argued that the material should be made public because political pressure from the Clinton administration drove the grand jury investigation into whether Tripp broke Maryland law by recording phone conversations with Monica S. Lewinsky.
The Public Information Act, which Judicial Watch invoked to obtain the documents, "does not trump or override the traditional rule of grand jury secrecy," according to the 24-page opinion, written by Chief Justice Robert M. Bell.
In February 1998, at the request of the Howard County State's Attorney, Montanarelli agreed to investigate Tripp's highly publicized taping of her conversations with the White House intern. Tripp's tapes were the basis for the investigation into President Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky.
In July 1998, Judicial Watch filed a request under public disclosure laws for Montanarelli to turn over all documents, including any making reference to Kenneth W. Starr, Lucianne Goldberg and the White House, as well as Tripp and Lewinsky.
Judicial Watch filed an action against Montanarelli, which led Baltimore County Circuit Judge John F. Fader II to order Montanrelli to turn over an index, which he said should include a description of the documents available. Montanarelli's office refused to do so and appealed.
Only a Howard County judge could have ordered disclosure of grand jury information, because the grand jury in the Tripp case was convened there, the Court of Appeals ruled. Even so, there was no evidence that any of the conditions necessary to set aside the rule of grand jury secrecy were met, the appeals court ruled.
The court also ruled that Judicial Watch is not "a person in interest" under the Public Information Act, because it is "unrelated to any party in the criminal investigation" and is not a governmental or law enforcement entity.
Tripp was indicted by a Howard County grand jury in July and charged with illegally taping a December 1997 phone conversation with Lewinsky and with illegally directing her attorney to disclose its contents to Newsweek magazine.
No judge has been assigned to Tripp's criminal case and no trial date has been set.