WASHINGTON – A U.S. appeals court ruled on Friday that a journalist does not have a legal right to see consultant reports prepared for American International Group Inc as part of an agreement between the company and securities regulators.
The unanimous ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed a finding in a lower court that the reports must be disclosed.
The information in question grew out of a 2004 dispute between AIG and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. In resolving the dispute, AIG agreed to hire an outside consultant to review some of its internal policies.
After unsuccessfully asking the SEC for a copy of the consultant's work, including any reports and other information, journalist Sue Reisinger filed a request in federal court in Washington in 2011.
A judge ordered AIG and the SEC to turn over copies of the records, but the appeals court disagreed, finding that the reports are not public records under the law.
"Documents created by the independent consultant are not government documents," Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote for a three-judge panel.
That the reports were at some point provided to the government still does not make them public, she added.
Reisinger is a reporter for Corporate Counsel and American Lawyer magazines, owned by ALM Media Properties LLC. Thomson Reuters is a direct competitor with ALM.
"On behalf of a public that deserves to see these documents, I am obviously disappointed with the ruling," Reisinger wrote in an email in response to a request for comment.
AIG and the SEC opposed the release of the reports, which were written by James Cole, a lawyer then in private practice. Cole is now the No. 2 official at the U.S. Justice Department.
An SEC spokesman said the ruling speaks for itself. A lawyer for AIG did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Howard Goller and Kenneth Barry)