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18 U.S.C.S. § 1503 provides, in part, that whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, endeavors to influence, intimidate, or impede any grand or petit juror, or officer in or of any court of the United States, or officer who may be serving at any examination or other proceeding before any United States magistrate judge or other committing magistrate, in the discharge of his duty, or injures any such grand or petit juror in his person or property on account of any verdict or indictment assented to by him, or on account of his being or having been such juror, or injures any such officer, magistrate judge, or other committing magistrate in his person or property on account of the performance of his official duties, or corruptly, or by threats or force or by threatening letter or communication, influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct or impede, the due administration of justice, shall be guilty of a federal crime.
Richard A. Lundwall and Robert W. Ulrich’s employer was made a defendant in a race discrimination suit by other employees. Upon a discovery request in that civil action, Lundwall and Ulrich destroyed documents that the employer was required to produce. As a result of this conduct, Lundwall and Ulrich were indicted under 18 U.S.C.S. § 1503. In their motion to dismiss, they asserted, among other things, that § 1503 did not apply to their conduct, as the statute had never been used to prosecute individuals charged with destruction or concealment of documents during civil discovery.
Did § 1503 apply to Lundwall and Ulrich’s conduct of destroying documents that their employer was required to produce?
The court refused to dismiss the indictment, finding that Lundwall and Ulrich’s conduct fell comfortably within the reach of the text of § 1503. The legislative history of § 1503 supported Lundwall and Ulrich’s prosecution, as the prime focus of the then-current version of § 1503 was to refine the judicial power to address contempts of court. Case law also demonstrated that § 1503 had been repeatedly applied in a wide variety of civil matters. Despite Lundwall and Ulrich’s argument, nothing in § 1503 or its legislative history limited the definition of obstruction of justice to apply only to the destruction of documents in the context of grand jury proceedings.