WASHINGTON — A federal judge ruled Monday that a Florida woman can pursue her lawsuit alleging the government invaded her privacy in the scandal over former CIA director David Petraeus.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Jill Kelley of Tampa can move ahead with claims that the FBI and Defense Department violated her privacy when officials leaked information about her to the news media.
The ruling does not deal with the merits of the case, but as the lawsuit proceeds, it could reveal more about the role various government agencies played as the scandal unfolded two years ago.
In 2012, Kelley complained to the FBI when an unknown person sent her harassing emails. Her complaint triggered a criminal investigation that led agents to Paula Broadwell, who was Petraeus’ biographer and had been having an affair with him.
Kelley’s name and some of the harassing emails were leaked to the news media amid the sensational disclosures about Petraeus, a former Army general. The leaks also linked Marine Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, as being under investigation for allegedly inappropriate communications with Kelley.
According to court filings by Kelley’s lawyers, the government falsely told one news outlet the emails between Allen and Kelley were the equivalent of phone sex. The lawyers argued that given the prurient nature of the investigation and the “other woman” narrative propounded by the leakers, it was likely that Kelley’s treatment was motivated by sexual discrimination. The Pentagon’s inspector general exonerated Allen, who subsequently retired.
Jackson on Monday threw out more than a dozen allegations in the lawsuit filed by Kelley and her husband, Scott, but allowed a single claim to move forward — a charge that the FBI and Defense Department violated the Privacy Act. The act is a post-Watergate law designed to protect people from unwarranted invasions of privacy by federal agencies that maintain sensitive information about them.
“Providing information to the media is not among the list of permissible disclosures listed in the Privacy Act,” Jackson wrote. “While it may prove to be the case that the media sensationalized the facts and seasoned its coverage of these events with sexual innuendo on its own, plaintiffs do point to several press accounts that identify the sources as unnamed government or military officials.”
Among the claims tossed out were allegations against individual officials including then-defense secretary Leon Panetta, former deputy FBI director Sean Joyce and two FBI agents.
In a statement, Kelley said she and her husband are pleased with the judge’s decision.
“We have asked our attorney’s to move forward quickly with discovery, to uncover the relevant facts and motivations from all the government officials involved,” she said.
Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Navas declined to comment. In court papers, Justice Department lawyers said Kelley has failed to present any facts suggesting the FBI and the Pentagon flagrantly disregarded her privacy rights.