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Clark v. Louisville Jefferson County Metro Government

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

September 11, 2019

JEFFREY DEWAYNE CLARK, et al., Plaintiffs,


          Colin H Lindsay, Magistrate Judge.

         Before the Court are the Motions to Quash filed by Defendant, Mark Handy (“Handy”), and Movant, Commonwealth of Kentucky (the “Commonwealth”). (DNs 84, 85.) Plaintiffs Clark and Hardin filed a response in opposition to the Motions (DN 87), and Handy filed a reply in support (DN 89). Therefore, this matter is ripe for review.

         For the reasons set forth below, Handy's and the Commonwealth's Motions to Quash (DNs 84, 85) are GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case involves Plaintiffs' convictions for the murder of Rhona Sue Warford by a Meade County, Kentucky jury in 1995. (DN 78-1, at PageID # 587.) Handy, at that time a homicide detective with Louisville Metro Police Department, assisted the Meade County Sheriff's Office in investigating the murder. (Id. at 588.) After they each spent twenty-two years in prison, Plaintiffs' convictions were vacated. (Id.; DN 83, at PageID # 608-09.) Plaintiffs have now filed suit against Handy and other Defendants alleging “that Handy and other Defendants caused their wrongful conviction by fabricating inculpatory evidence and suppressing exculpatory evidence.” (DN 83, at PageID # 609-10.) Plaintiffs have alleged that Handy falsified statements he attributed to Plaintiffs and falsely testified to those same statements at trial. (Id. at 610.) Plaintiffs alleged in both their Complaint and their response to Handy's Motion to Stay Discovery, which the Court will decide by separate order, that Handy has a history of this type of misconduct. (Id. at 610-11; DN 39, at PageID # 241, 249-50.)

         Handy is current being prosecuted for perjury and tampering with physical evidence as a result of his role in the investigation and prosecution of Keith West (“West”) and Edmund Chandler (“Chandler”). Commonwealth v. Handy, No. 18-CR-2871, Jefferson Circuit Court, Jefferson County, Kentucky (filed Sept. 26, 2018). On April 2, 2019, counsel for Plaintiff Clark issued a subpoena to the office of the special prosecutor in Commonwealth v. Handy requesting a copy of “[a]ny and all grand-jury transcripts, recordings, or other materials relied upon by the grand-jury leading to the indictment of Mark Handy for perjury and tampering with physical evidence in September of 2018.” (DNs 84-2, 85-1.) Both Defendant Handy and the Commonwealth, upon whom the subpoena was served, have moved to quash the subpoena. (DNs 84, 85.)

         The Commonwealth argued that in Kentucky, grand jury materials and transcripts are kept secret pursuant to the Kentucky Rules of Criminal Procedure and that any disclosure not provided for by law is punishable as contempt of Court. (DN 85, at PageID # 635-36.) While recognizing that this Court is not bound by Kentucky's Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Commonwealth argued that Kentucky's rules regarding grand jury secrecy are simply an application of the common law principle that grand jury proceedings should be secret. (Id. at 636.) The Commonwealth argued that “comity dictates that the federal courts defer action on any disclosure requests until the party seeking disclosure shows that the state supervisory court has considered his requests and has ruled on the continuing need for secrecy.” (Id.) Further, the Commonwealth asserted that even if this Court was not inclined to direct Plaintiff Clark to seek relief in state court, Clark had not established that the testimony and materials heard by the grand jury cannot be gained through depositions and other civil discovery tools in this case. (Id. at 637.) Given that Clark had not made the requisite showing of necessity, the Commonwealth asked this Court to quash the subpoena. (Id.)

         Handy argued that the subpoena improperly sought disclosure of protected materials. (DN 84, at PageID # 626.) Handy likewise cited that grand jury proceedings are kept secret pursuant to Kentucky Rule of Criminal Procedure 5.24(1). (Id. at 627.) Handy echoed the Commonwealth's argument that this Court should direct Plaintiff Clark to petition the state circuit court for disclosure of the materials as directed in a similar case in the Eastern District of Kentucky. (Id. at 627-28.)

         In response, Plaintiffs argued that forcing them to seek disclosure of the grand jury transcripts in state court would bring this litigation “to a standstill.” (DN 87, as PageID # 676-77.) Plaintiffs argued that grand jury transcripts and materials are properly disclosed upon a showing of particularized need and citied authority to support their argument that the need to impeach witnesses, test credibility, or refresh recollection were particularized needs. (Id. at 677-78.) Plaintiffs asserted that their prosecutions were the result of routine practices by the Meade County Sheriff's Office and the Louisville Metro Police Department “to pursue wrongful prosecutions and wrongful convictions through reckless and profoundly flawed investigations and fabricated evidence.” (Id. at 679-80.) Because Defendant Woosley and other witnesses in this matter testified before the grand jury, Plaintiffs argued that the transcripts were necessary to impeach, refresh the recollection, or test the credibility of these witnesses. (Id. at 680-81.) Plaintiffs also argued that Defendant Handy would have access to the grand jury materials, thereby putting them on an unlevel playing field in preparing for depositions.[1] (Id. at 681-82.)

         Handy filed a reply in which he largely distinguished authorities relied upon by Plaintiffs and emphasized that here, Plaintiff Clark sought disclosure of grand jury materials from “a completely separate[ ] and disconnected prosecution.” (DN 89, at PageID # 700.) Handy also emphasized that there were other ways Plaintiffs could obtain information regarding the testimony before the grand jury, including through depositions, “without breaching the sanctity of the grand jury:” (Id.)


         A. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45 governs the scope of subpoenas served upon third parties. Rule 45 allows a party to command a non-party to attend a deposition, produce documents, or permit an inspection of premises. Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(a)(1). Rule 45 requires the Court to quash or modify a subpoena that “requires disclosure of a privileged or protected matter” if no exception or waiver applies. Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(d)(3)(A)(iii). It also requires the Court to quash or modify a subpoena when it “subjects a person to undue burden.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(d)(3)(A)(iv).

         B. ...

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