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Federal judge quashes subpoena for Kansas bookstore's sales records

The Associated Press

12.04.00

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The Drug Enforcement Administration's attempt to get some sales records from a northeast Kansas bookstore has been denied by a federal judge.

In September the DEA issued a subpoena for the records from one of the Borders stores in suburban Johnson County. The subpoena was quashed in a one-paragraph order issued Nov. 28 by U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum.

Records of the case are sealed, lawyers for Borders confirmed that Lungstrum had granted their motion.

"Borders is very gratified that its First Amendment rights and those of its customers have been vindicated," said Jerry Wolf, one of Borders' lawyers. "We're pleased with the result."

The case was filed under seal to avoid compromising a continuing grand jury investigation. It isn't known whether the subpoena for the Borders store was for the purchase receipts of one customer or several.

Booksellers and civil liberties groups were concerned about the case's First Amendment and privacy implications. Several bookseller groups, including the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and the National Association of College Stores, had filed briefs urging the court to quash the subpoena.

"It's very significant that the judge recognized and reaffirmed what bookstores and associations were arguing, which is that there is a First Amendment right involved here," said Theresa Chmara, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who filed one of the briefs on behalf of several bookseller groups.

"Here we have a situation where we don't know a lot of facts but where it's clear law enforcement was trying to say that, because someone purchased a book, that will help prove they committed a crime," Chmara said. "And while there's no absolute privilege that (law enforcement) can never get access to what you're reading, it's certainly hard to envision a situation where you're thought to have committed a crime based on the books you've bought."

David Horowitz, executive director of the Media Coalition, a New York trade association that represents media producers, distributors and retailers, said: "The concern is with the chilling effect on book purchasers and booksellers if there's a real fear your book records will become public."

During the investigation of President Clinton's relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, independent counsel Kenneth Starr subpoenaed nine months of records from a Washington bookstore to find out what books Lewinsky had purchased.

A judge ruled that the request was too broad, and later Lewinsky agreed to cooperate with Starr in return for immunity from prosecution.

Another case still pending in Colorado stems from a March police raid at a suspected methamphetamine laboratory in a suburban Denver trailer home.

The police found two books, Advanced Techniques of Clandestine Psychedelic and Amphetamine Manufacture and The Construction and Operation of Clandestine Drug Laboratories. In the trash outside they found a mailing envelope indicating the books were bought at the Tattered Cover, an independent Denver bookstore.

Seeking to prove that the person whose name was on the envelope owned the lab, police got a search warrant and went to the Tattered Cover seeking sales receipts over a 30-day period involving one of the suspects.

After the bookstore's owner refused to comply, Denver District Judge J. Stephens Phillips in October ordered the store to give police a copy of the invoice believed to have been in the envelope. But he turned down investigators' original request to see all records of what one person bought during a month's time.

The bookstore has appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Previous

Federal grand jury tells Kansas bookstore to hand over customer records
Subpoena came to light when bookseller industry newsletter reported that several groups had filed court papers on Borders' behalf.  11.20.00

Related

Bookstore fights order to turn over sales records
'If what we read today can result in a search warrant tomorrow, then fear replaces freedom,' attorney tells Colorado high court.  12.06.01

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