Contact: Thomas R. Burke, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, (415) 276-6552 or

MARCH 9, 2016 – Seth Rosenfeld, an award-winning, independent investigative journalist, has sued the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation over their refusal—in violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)—to disclose important records regarding government surveillance of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and 70s.

The FBI has acknowledged possessing 3,622 pages of records responsive to Mr. Rosenfeld’s October 2014 request for records on the late Black Panther Party leader Huey Newton. But the agency has refused to release these records unless he pays search fees, insisting that Mr. Rosenfeld does not qualify as a representative of the news media and therefore is not entitled to the standard fee waiver for journalists. 

The FBI also has refused to process any of Mr. Rosenfeld’s other pending FOIA requests because of the dispute, even though the FOIA provides that agencies must waive potentially high search fees for members of the news media to facilitate the flow of information to the public.

“The government has essentially blacklisted our client because he has effectively used the Freedom of Information Act to inform the public about improper FBI activities,” said Thomas R. Burke of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in San Francisco, who is representing Mr. Rosenfeld in the matter, along with DWT attorney Kathleen Cullinan. “Moreover, if allowed to stand, the government’s position would unlawfully bar an entire class of journalists—independent investigative reporters—from receiving news media representative status, subject them to daunting and improper fees, and thus bar public access to vital information held by the government.”  

A reporter for more than three decades, Mr. Rosenfeld has devoted much of his career to investigating and reporting on the FBI’s domestic intelligence operations during the Cold War, often relying on records uncovered through FOIA requests.

Mr. Rosenfeld has successfully used the FOIA to expose improper FBI activities and in prior litigation under the Act has won access to more than 300,000 pages of records and been awarded more than one million dollars in attorneys’ fees.  His 2012 book, Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power, was based mainly on FBI records that he was able to access only after decades-long FOIA litigation. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, the book was a New York Times bestseller and won several literary awards.

Mr. Rosenfeld’s freelance work has been published in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Harper’s, the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal website, and elsewhere. Prior to becoming a freelancer writer, he was for 25 years a staff reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner. He is currently a correspondent for the Center for Investigative Reporting.  His journalism has received the George Polk Award and other professional honors.

Mr. Rosenfeld’s lawsuit comes with the approach of Sunshine Week, an annual nationwide celebration of access to public information spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

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