Archive for June 2006

Here We Go Again

June 26, 2006

In case you missed it, another politician is jumping on the "let's prosecute reporters for treason" bandwagon. News reports have quoted U.S. Representative Peter King as saying he thinks the Bush Administration should go after The New York Times and others for the recent disclosures regarding government officials tracking international banking information.

And Bush is quoted today as saying he finds the publishing of the articles "disgraceful."

I guess there are some who think this argument has political legs, because it sure as hell doesn't on the merits. It's going to be interesting to see if they try to make good on their threats. I honestly don't know. But as I said on this blog and my column for The Legal Intelligencer, I think journalists and lawyers should go on the offensive.

I have to admit that personally, I'm not as troubled by the banking revelations. Given the IRS, credit bureaus, consolidation in the banking industry, etc., I always assumed the government would have easy access to my financial information.

If they want to see what I bought from Amazon, let them: this administration doesn't seem to read much, so I doubt they would know what to make of my purchases. Except for maybe the copy of the U.S. Army Ranger handbook I keep in my briefcase.

The program itself doesn't both me like the NSA eavesdropping for a number of reasons. First, the eavesdropping reeks of authoritarian government shenanigans, and the kind of abuses that Congress sought to correct in the 1970s.

Second, while I think it's horrible if someone in a fit of anger says something that catches the government's attention and causes them to be interrogated, I'm less concerned if they come under government scrutiny for sending money to or receiving money from, groups or individuals connected to terrorism. To me, money, unlike speech, is much more akin to a smoking gun in the war on terror.

Part of that perspective comes from a conversation I once had with someone who was involved in counter-terrorist investigations. The gist of what he said to me was: "We know where a lot of these guys are, we know they're connected; it's a matter of following the money and figuring out where it's coming from and where it's going to."

However, even though the banking program doesn't bother me as much, I'm not upset by newspapers reporting on it. I read those articles and I didn't come across anything that would tip off a terrorist on how to evade capture. And I have to believe that more than a few terrorists assumed many financial transactions would be watched post-9/11. I know I made that assumption.

In fact, I seem to remember reading in the papers not long after 9/11 that one of the difficulties law enforcement organizations had in following terrorist financing was the existence of certain unique & secretive types of financial networks in the Arab world (the exact term escapes me). Those articles suggested that a lot of terror financing came via those networks. So who knows how much of the banking surveillance has even helped.

I think part of the reason this tension is building — aside from Bush's political weakness given his awful poll numbers — is because the press and the public don't trust this administration, and this administration has never shown a fondness for openness or being straight with the American people.

So the press is digging and exposing, and the administration, rather than focus on explaining, is hinting that it's more interested in jailing.

–Hank Grezlak, Editor-in-Chief

Shestack Receives Top ABA Honor

June 19, 2006

Jerome J. Shestack, who recently retired as partner and chairman of the litigation department at Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen, will receive the American Bar Association Medal for 2006.

The medal is the highest recognition the association awards and is given to an individual that has shown exceptional service to the cause of American jurisprudence.

"Jerry Shestack's contributions span many fields and have taken place in settings too numerous to recount, but perhaps they can best be encompassed by understanding him as an ambassador for human rights throughout the world," ABA president Michael S. Greco said.

Shestack will receive the award on Aug. 7 during the ABA's House of Delegates meeting.

Former recipients of the award include Sandra Day O'Connor and Thurgood Marshall.

Shestack became a member of the bar in 1949 and had his first human rights case that year in which he fought for Harvard Law School to admit female students.

–Gina Passarella, Staff Reporter

Class Action Filed Against Archdiocese

June 16, 2006

Bolstered by a Philadelphia grand jury report released this past fall, a proposed class of local alleged priest sex abuse victims are seeing if the Eastern District will give them what Pennsylvania's appellate judges have not: a day in court.

A large number of Pennsylvania plaintiffs who sued their archdioceses in state courts have consistently lost statute-of-limitations battles before the Superior Court, and the state Supreme Court has declined to reconsider.

Stewart Eisenberg of Eisenberg Rothweiler Winkler Eisenberg & Jeck, who represents the plaintiffs in Magnum v. Archdiocese of Philadelphia, acknowledges that his clients will face a tough battle in federal court over the statute of limitations issue.

When the Philadelphia grand jury report was released, District Attorney Lynne Abraham suggested that the General Assembley consider lengthening the statutes of limitations for various offenses allegedly at play in the majority of priest sex abuse cases.

But those changes haven't come yet, not to mention the potential fight over retroactive applicability.

"I would hope that whoever is assigned this case would take a different look at it than the Superior Court did," Eisenberg said.

He noted that a number of common pleas judges in counties across the state had found in favor of plaintiffs whose actions were later deemed untimely brought.

But in addition to the claims already raised before the state courts, such as fraudulent concealment, the Magnum plaintiffs are asserting that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has violated RICO and civil conspiracy laws.

The Philadelphia's grand jury report forms the basis for many of the allegations contained in the Magnum complaint.

Eisenberg said he's personally never moved to introduce a grand jury report into evidence, but hopes that it will be viewed as would an investigative report from, for example, a local police department or the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The archdiocese's defense counsel, C. Clark Hodgson Jr. of Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, declined to comment.

–Asher Hawkins, Staff Reporter

The Legal’s Request for Civil Juror Information Denied

June 14, 2006

Earlier this year, The Legal received a letter from a reader — and local attorney — who demanded to know why we have not attempted to contact jurors when writing about civil trials that have gone through to verdict.

The reader explained that as a practitioner, he would be far more interested in what the jurors have to say about a case post-verdict than what the lawyers who tried it do.

We thus began to envision a regular feature in which, following a civil trial that results in a verdict, we would contact the case's jurors and highlight their quotes in stories that also rely on traditional sources of information, such as documents filed with the court and interviews with lawyers and (if necessary) court officials.

Soon thereafter, The Legal was preparing a story about a verdict in a workplace injury case tried in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, and thought it presented a good opportunity to give our tentative feature idea a first run.

We contacted a number of First Judicial District officials — including the case's trial judge and the Philadelphia court system's jury commissioner — and received conflicting answers as to the press's right to access the requested information.

Ultimately, we sent a formal request to FJD President Judge C. Darnell Jones II with copies forwarded to the relevant members of court administration.

In a letter dated June 8, Jones wrote that our request had been denied. He explained that he had brought the matter up at a recent meeting of the FJD's Board of Judges — the term for all Philadelphia common pleas judges — and that The Legal's request had met with unanimous opposition.

"Although the overriding concerns are multiple," Jones wrote, "the board is particularly concerned with juror safety, a perceived violation of juror privacy and the potentially 'chilling effect' the release of such information could have on citizen participation on jury panels."

The Legal has decided not to litigate the matter.

An attempt to gain access to the information through another avenue was not fruitful: the Controller's Office of Philadelphia informed us that although it regularly audits payments made to those who have served as jurors, it does not track those payments according to case identification number or trial judge.

Despite these setbacks, we at The Legal still hope to, at some point in the future, be able to provide our readers with insights from jurors who have participated in civil trials that have gone through to verdict.

–Asher Hawkins, Staff Reporter 

Goldberger to Head Wolf Block Litigation Group

June 14, 2006

Norman Goldberger was appointed the chairman of the business litigation department of Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen.

He was serving as the co-chairman for the past three years with Jerome J. Shestack who recently became of counsel with the firm.

Goldberger joined Wolf Block in 1978 and has focused his practice on complex business litigation including class action work.

There are approximately 100 litigators across the firm's eight offices.

–Gina Passarella, Staff Reporter

The White House’s Public Enemy No.2? The Press

June 11, 2006

There have been a number of articles in recent weeks in The New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as other newspapers, about how the Bush Administration may soon be focusing its attention on that other great scourge to American freedom — other than terrorists of course — journalists. Apparently the great defenders of freedom in the White House are still pretty upset about the disclosure a few months ago about the National Security Agency's secret eavesdropping program to the public, so they're thinking about putting journalists in jail for writing such stories. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been quoted as endorsing the idea, citing anti-espionage laws from the early 20th Century.

It's a weak argument. The articles on the NSA program merely alerted the public that the government was potentially listening in on phone calls and other communications without a warrant — something the president had said wouldn't happen. The fact that the government was doing so without going before the FISA court was troubling to people across the political spectrum, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. There was certainly nothing in even the most detailed of those articles that would have provided terrorists with information to thwart those efforts.

Since when has it been considered treason to question government action? When has it been considered espionage to convey the truth about what the government is doing, particularly when it is potentially intruding on the privacy of American citizens? This country was founded on the notion of freedom of the press, freedom from government interference and intrusion and protesting the actions of the government. I can't think of a more anti-American — or legally stupid — notion.

In response to things like the articles on the NSA program, the president and his cronies continue their mantra of "don't worry, be happy" (well, it goes something like that), where they suggest there's nothing to be concerned about, nothing to really debate, and we should just trust them to do the right thing. Sure. Kind of like stopping Saddam from unleashing all those WMDs in Iraq, right? I, and a lot of other Americans, fell for that once. Or twice. Or three times. All right, enough is enough.

But should anyone be surprised by this new genius theory, coming from an administration that has somehow managed to wrangle a legal no-man's land for terrorist fighters, where they are neither criminals nor enemy soldiers?

The intention of this talk is clear. It's aimed at intimidating the press. Silencing voices of opposition. This is an administration that has shown consistently, from the micro to the macro, that dissent will not be tolerated. They aren't secure enough to fight on the merits of their arguments, so they attack those who challenge them. It's been the game plan for tyrants throughout the ages.

And that's what this all reeks of — tyranny. Don't mistake me for some left-wing hippie wannabe. I'm a big fan of our military and I have no problem with the use of force. I've probably voted Republican more often than Democrat, and I couldn't be happier at the premise of destroying Al-Qaeda and killing its members. But there is a right way and a wrong way to do things. We cannot sacrifice our most sacred principles and ideas in the name of fighting a war. In reality, we don't have to. Competent leadership can always accomplish its goals without compromising its values. But maybe that last sentence says it all. 

What's especially ironic about all this is the Valerie Plame affair. Now, it's clearly against the law to reveal the identity of a CIA agent. And it's pretty clear someone in the Bush administration leaked her name to the press with intention of smearing her husband, Joseph Wilson, after he argued that some of the administration's claims about Iraq were a bunch of bunk. But the administration didn't look particularly hard into the source of that leak.

So let me get this straight. It's ok to reveal the names of CIA agents, provided they or someone close to them says something the government doesn't like, regardless of whether it puts that agent or those who have worked with them in physical danger. But if I write about a government program that arguably breaks the law — or worse, completely disregards it — I might be prosecuted for espionage. Does that make sense to anyone?

It's high time that the legal and journalistic communities work together and start asserting pressure on Congress. This threat being tossed around by Gonzalez should not be ignored. It should be met head on. There need to be extensive hearings on the NSA's program, the alleged cooperation by the phone companies, and the White House's threats with regard to the press. If necessary, legislation should be drawn up to address these issues.

If I can find any solace in any of this, it is this — the inability of the Bush administration to do anything other than divide America and tick off the rest of the world. Given how inept it has been, from the war on terror to Hurricane Katrina to the war in Iraq, I can only hope it brings the same level of stupidity, arrogance, and incompetence to its war on the First Amendment.

–Hank Grezlak, Editor-in-Chief

Singley Resigns From Blank Rome

June 5, 2006

Carl Singley has resigned from Blank Rome to spend more time teaching.

The former Temple Law School Dean, who recently turned 60, decided to leave the big firm life and possibly go back to teaching at the law school, a Blank Rome spokesman said.

The spokesman said Singley left on his own accord and his work will be absorbed by other firm members.

Singley joined Blank Rome in 2000 from his own firm, Singley Potts & Booth.

–Gina Passarella, Staff Reporter