First Circuit Trims Subpoenas of College’s IRA Interviews

First Circuit Trims Subpoenas of College’s IRA Interviews
Sheri Qualters
The National Law Journal
06-03-2013

A federal appeals court has ruled that Boston College need not release 74 transcripts of interviews from an oral history project about political organizations associated with the Northern Ireland “Troubles.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit partially vacated District of Massachusetts Judge William Young’s January 2012 order and held that Boston College must only release 11 of the 85 contested transcripts of interviews with former Irish Republican Army (IRA) members.

The case centered on the U.S. government’s August 2011 subpoenas to Boston College, issued at the behest of British authorities under a mutual legal assistance treaty. The caption is In Re: Request from the United Kingdom Pursuant to the Treaty Between the Government of the United States of America and The Government of the United Kingdom on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters in the Matter of Dolours Price.

The subpoenas sought any information related to the 1972 abduction and death of Jean McConville in any interview material held by the school. McConville is believed to have been a British government informant against republican extremists.

Last July, a First Circuit panel rejected two researchers’ separate appeal to quash the August subpoena and one issued that May. The panel held that the researchers had no private right of action under the treaty.

The panel’s latest ruling, handed down on Friday, affirmed in part and reversed in part Young’s December 2011 order denying the school’s motion to quash and his subsequent 2012d order to release the interviews. Judge Juan Torruella wrote the opinion, joined by Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson. Judge Michael Boudin heard oral argument but did not participate in the opinion.

“After carefully reviewing each of the materials in question, we find that although a number of interviewees provide information relevant to the subject matter of the subpoena and that the district court acted within its discretion in ordering their production, it abused its discretion in ordering the production of a significant number of interviews that only contain information that is in fact irrelevant to the subject matter of the subpoena,” Torruella wrote.

Jeffrey Swope, a Boston partner at Edwards Wildman Palmer who argued for the school, said he was pleased that court took time to carefully review the transcripts. “[The court] spent a huge amount of effort to read all these transcripts and protected academic research that wasn’t relevant to the matter under investigation,” he said.

Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn said, “This ruling represents a significant victory for Boston College in its defense of these oral history materials.”

The Boston U.S. Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.