Originally created 01/11/00

Judge agrees to unseal evidence in IBF case

NEWARK, N.J. -- A judge Monday agreed to unseal some of the evidence that led prosecutors to charge IBF founder Robert W. Lee Sr. and others with taking $338,000 in bribes to rig its rankings.

Lee, who is to stand trial this spring, opposed a request by the Los Angeles Times, arguing that media reports about the evidence would hamper efforts to find an impartial jury.

U.S. District Judge John W. Bissell disagreed, ruling there is a "strong presumption" of public access and that he would review documents, audio and videotapes to determine which could be released.

The judge did not say when the material would be made public.

The evidence and legal briefs have been sealed at the request of government prosecutors since shortly after Lee was indicted on conspiracy, racketeering and money laundering charges in November.

The government then filed a lawsuit with similar allegations and asked Bissell to remove Lee as president of one of boxing's major sanctioning bodies and appoint a monitor to rehabilitate the organization.

Lee took a leave of absence in December. Bissell has not yet decided whether to appoint a monitor.

Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph G. Braunreuther said the government took no position on whether the evidence should be unsealed, asserting it only wanted the material kept secret until the judge had a chance to consider making it public in an "orderly fashion."

Lee's lawyer Gerald Krovatin, however, claimed the release of evidence would have a "potentially devastating effect" on Lee's Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial.

Stating that potential jurors would be "saturated with the barrage of evidence" before trial, Krovatin said, "We're going to have the jury pool infected by this pretrial publicity and it will make it impossible to seat a juror who reads newspapers."

A lawyer for the Times, Douglas Widmann, argued that sealing documents is a remedy only for the most sensational cases, or those in which the jury pool is small.

Lee "is not a case where it is routinely making the front page of papers," Widmann said. He said that coverage has been fair, with Lee's declarations of innocence being reported.

Bissell said he may release transcripts in place of tapes to balance fairness to Lee in consideration of the pervasive nature of television.

At a hearing last month, Braunreuther said some videotape evidence shows Lee taking bribes and improperly manipulating its important ratings committee.

The judge also said he would withhold "speculative" and "scurrilous" material that could harm the reputation of people who are not charged with Lee and three IBF officials.

The indictment said seven promoters and managers were involved in the payoffs to the IBF to alter rankings or give favorable treatment to 23 boxers. They have not been charged, and the indictment refers to them only by number.

Rankings play a big role in determining fights and purses for boxers.

Lee has also been charged with failing to report the bribes as income on his tax returns. He has pleaded innocent to all charges.


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