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United States v. Walasek

decided: December 30, 1975.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE,
v.
PAUL WALASEK, APPELLANT



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA (D.C. Criminal No. 74-629).

Van Dusen, Hastie and Hunter, Circuit Judges.

Author: Hunter

Opinion OF THE COURT

HUNTER, Circuit Judge:

I

Appellant Walasek was convicted on one count of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1503*fn1 (obstruction of justice) and one count of conspiracy (18 U.S.C. § 371) to violate 18 U.S.C. § 1503.*fn2 The gravamen of the charge was that Walasek, a Vice-President and Regional Manager of WUI/TAS, Inc., caused certain records of that company to be destroyed after he had been advised that a federal grand jury subpoena duces tecum had been served upon the Company's Philadelphia office on June 21, 1974.

It is not disputed that records sought by the subpoena were destroyed by two Philadelphia employees of WUI/TAS, Inc., Panaro and Fetterman,*fn3 who worked under the general supervision of Walasek, or that Panaro discussed the subpoena over the telephone with Walasek (who was in New York City) during the hours between the receipt of the subpoena and the destruction of the documents. Appellant does not in fact contest the sufficiency of the evidence to support the findings which the trial court held would constitute the substantive crime. While Walasek does challenge the adequacy of the evidence to support the conspiracy count, we conclude that there was enough evidence to support a jury finding that Panaro and/or Fetterman possessed a state of mind consistent with a proscribed agreement with Walasek.*fn4

Of the other points of error raised by appellant, only two related contentions going to the interpretation of the obstruction of justice statute require discussion.*fn5

II

The parties agree that a pre-requisite for a conviction for obstruction of justice under the final clause of 18 U.S.C. § 1503 is the pendency of some sort of judicial proceeding which equates to an "administration of justice." Pettibone v. United States, 148 U.S. 197, 207, 37 L. Ed. 419, 13 S. Ct. 542 (1893); United States v. Perlstein, 126 F.2d 789 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 316 U.S. 678, 86 L. Ed. 1752, 62 S. Ct. 1106 (1942). Where the parties disagree is on the question of when a grand jury investigation progresses to a stage where it can be said to be "pending" so as to activate the sanctions of § 1503.

In the present case, it appears that, prior to June 21, the investigation of the business practices of WUI/TAS, Inc., had been assigned by the U.S. Attorney's office to a regularly sitting grand jury, that a witness had been called to testify before that grand jury concerning WUI/TAS, and that upon the witness' refusal to testify, a Petition for Immunity had been filed and granted.*fn6

Appellant would have us adopt a rigid rule that a grand jury proceeding is not "pending" until a grand jury has actually heard testimony*fn7 or has in some way taken a role in the decision to issue the subpoena. He offers no authority for such a rule, and we are not inclined to adopt it. Appellant is correct in his observation that a grand jury subpoena may become an instrumentality of an investigative agency, without meaningful judicial supervision. Nevertheless, the remedy against potential abuses is not to establish a rule, easily circumvented, by which some formal act of the grand jury will be required to establish "pendency." The remedy is rather to continue to inquire, in each case, whether the subpoena is issued in furtherance of an actual grand jury investigation, i.e., to secure a presently contemplated presentation of evidence before the grand jury. See United States v. Ryan, 455 F.2d 728 (9th Cir. 1972).

Without attempting to articulate any necessary minimum set of circumstances, we are persuaded that the present record is sufficient to establish the ...


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