The Department of Justice can’t avoid a request for records of alleged ethical violations by a North Carolina assistant U.S. attorney.

The records are related to criminal cases. But that alone doesn’t mean they are law enforcement records exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said Aug. 3.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Clay Wheeler prosecuted Gregory Bartko for securities fraud and in 2010 he was sentenced to 272...