Saying the public has a right to know, a federal magistrate in Los Angeles ordered the government on Friday to unseal records that could shed further light on the defense contract fraud scandal.

However, a U.S. District judge later ordered the records to remain sealed at least until Friday when he will hear an appeal by the government of the magistrate's ruling.A federal judge in Brooklyn, N.Y., also ordered documents in the scandal unsealed Friday but kept others under wraps, then stayed his order until Wednesday to give the Justice Department time to appeal.

In Alexandria, Va., another federal judge declined to unseal records for lawyers representing Melvyn Paisley, a key figure in the probe, on grounds it could jeopardize the investigation.

In St. Louis, a federal judge rejected a motion by Pulitzer Publishing Co. for the unsealing of affidavits justifying search warrants executed June 14 at the aircraft unit of McDonnell Douglas.

The magistrate's decision in Los Angeles was a partial victory for several media organizations which had requested access to search warrants and supporting affidavits served last month on an aerospace consultant and three Southern California defense contractors.

U.S. Magistrate Joseph Reichmann ruled that the public had a constitutional right to access since the government had not succeeded in demonstrating that its investigation of the scandal would be harmed if the documents were unsealed.

But later a district judge ordered that the records must remain sealed, pending additional hearings next week. The judge scheduled a hearing for Monday to determine whether portions of the documents should be unsealed.

The government's two-year investigation of defense fraud became public last month when search warrants were issued at several homes and businesses around the country. So far, only limited documentation in Texas, Missouri and Virginia has been unsealed.

The documents at issue in the Los Angeles case involve consultant Fred Lackner, Teledyne Inc.'s electronics subsidiary, a unit of Northrop Corp., and Litton Industries Inc.'s data systems subsidiary.

The supporting affidavits to the search warrants are expected to outline the basis of the government's investigation of Lackner and the three contractors.