Defense attorneys have long known that damaging email traffic from their clients could be very useful to the prosecution in the upcoming criminal trial involving former executives of the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA). But there is one particular email, now under seal, that Stewart Parnell has managed to keep from the public for most of the past year and that he now wants to keep from the jury. Defense attorneys and government prosecutors have decided to draw their lines in the sand over this one email that Parnell says “is highly prejudicial” to his case. Parnell wants this email kept under seal by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia and away from the jury in the coming trial of PCA executives. The former president of the now-defunct peanut processing company and two other defendants are scheduled for a July 14 jury trial. They are charged with a total of 76 federal felonies, including fraud and conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and the introduction of adulterated and misbranded food into interstate commerce. Federal prosecutors want to use the email as evidence at trial, and, in a recent “response in opposition,” they say that Parnell has not come up with a good reason to keep the email away from the public. “Defendant Stewart Parnell has failed to show good cause why the document should be sealed,” argues K. Alan Dasher, assistant U.S. District Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia. “The courts have consistently held that it is presumed that court proceedings and judicial documents should be open and accessible to the public.” Dasher also quotes from findings of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit that a “public right of access” is critical to the operation of the federal courts. Just as civil and criminal cases should be tried in public, Dasher says there is a common law right of access to the court’s public records. While accepting that right of access is not absolute, Dasher says the “desire” of a party to seal documents “is immaterial.” Sealing documents, he adds, requires a “showing of good cause.” “Defendant Stewart Parnell asserts as the sole ground for sealing the document that it is highly prejudicial,” Dasher writes. “That is an insufficient reason to overcome the strong presumption in favor of public access.” The sealed email is known as 404(b) evidence, defined in the Federal Rules of Evidence as that which involves a crime, wrong or other act that may have never resulted in an arrest, prosecution, or conviction and may not even be criminal. Among the reasons 404(b) evidence may be admissible are: motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, and absence of mistake or accident. Parnell’s many caustic emails were one of the early ways the public came to learn about how PCA’s business practices might have contributed to the 2008-2009 Salmonella outbreak that was linked to the company’s products. His “turn them loose” email was first disclosed five years ago by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. A staffer’s email had asked Parnell what to do with peanut products initially found to be contaminated, and that was his reply. Another email Parnell might like to keep under seal was his response to his 2007 quality assurance manager, who emailed the boss to ask for permission to purchase from overseas a $600 piece of used equipment for PCA’s lab for microbiological testing. “Can you guarantee it will work and we will not get screwed — GET IT, ” Parnell’s reply email stated. “These lab tests and COA’s are fucking breaking me/us.” (COAs are Certificates of Analysis used by PCA to guarantee customer requirements were being met.) In addition to wanting to keep the one email sealed, attorneys for Parnell have asked federal Judge W. Louis Sands to ban any mention of illnesses or deaths resulting from the Salmonella outbreak and allow an expert witness to testify at trial that their client suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Parnell is being tried with his brother Michael, who worked on behalf of PCA as a peanut broker, and Mary Wilkerson, who was the company’s quality assurance manager. About 700 illnesses and nine deaths were blamed on the outbreak by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.