A few years ago, I was hired by a number of non-profit numismatic groups who were seeking information from the State Department concerning limitations placed on the importation of ancient coins to the United States. I was unaware of the controversy swirling between coin collectors, archaeologists, museums and others over the importation of ancient coins. All I really knew at the beginning of the engagement was that my clients had made a number of FOIA requests to the State Department and most of them had gone completely unanswered.
In 2007, my clients filed a complaint seeking access to a number of requests concerning importation limits on ancient coins for Italy, Cyprus and China. Only once the lawsuit was filed did the State Department start to fulfill the FOIA requests. However, certain of the information was withheld. These withholdings as well as some of the searches were litigated at the U.S. District Court. The District Court held for the government and my clients, as is there right, appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In January of 2011, the appeal was heard and shortly thereafter, the Court entered a split decision -- affirming some of the government's actions and remanding the case back to the lower court for further action on certain issues. The State Department eventually filed a new summary judgment motion in line with the Appeals Court decision, and despite my clients' objections, the District Court agreed with the government and dismissed the case as was recently reported by Courthouse News Service.
Interestingly, the archaeological blogosphere has made much of this case and extrapolated much about the Court's decisions. These bloggers have asserted that the Court's recent decision stated that there was no conspiracy between the State Department and a deceased archaeologist who allegedly provided her opinion on the importation of ancient coins in confidence to the government. However, as the Cultural Property Observer, written by an ancient coin collector states, these bloggers don't really show the entire picture.
I usually do not comment on matters that I worked on. However, I think that a few things need to be said. FOIA requests are made to find out information -- in this case, one of the pieces of information sought was what exactly did the deceased Canadian archaeologist tell the State Department? My clients were clearly within their rights to ask for this information. The State Department ultimately was able to withhold this information, but they had to make multiple explanations to the Courts before they were able to withhold the information. The ancient coin collectors groups were well within their rights to seek this information and the bloggers offense that this case was even brought is just silly.
Further, when the lawsuit began very little information had even been processed for my clients -- they only received information about the requests when they filed the case. So, again the criticism for bringing the case in the first place is just a bunch of internet noise.
In the future, I hope all parties interested in this issue, including the blogging archaeologists use the FOIA. Because everyone is entitled to find out what the government is up to.