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The Republican National Convention may be two months away from opening in New York City, but scores of lawyers are already bracing for battle. The New York Civil Liberties Union has mounted a multifaceted “Protecting Protest” campaign that includes legal action against the city, filing three lawsuits in federal court in New York seeking an injunction to prevent the police from using heavy-handed practices to discourage protesters at the convention. The lawsuits do not seek to impede the police from doing their jobs, according to Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. The suits ask the court to limit police use of certain certain crowd-control tactics. The lawsuits specifically address the authority of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) to close off streets, search demonstrators, contain people behind metal barricades and deploy horses to disperse crowds. Closing arguments were held on June 17 before Judge Robert Sweet. He is expected to rule within a few weeks. The convention begins on Aug. 30. ( Conrad v. City of New York, No. 03-CV-9163; Gutman v. City of New York, No. 03-CV-9164; Stauber v. City of New York, No. 03-CV-9162 (S.D.N.Y.) “We’re not asking the police to refrain from blocking streets,” said Lieberman. “We’re asking them to minimize that and notify the public when they need to block off access routes.” The same goes for the other crowd-control methods: “We’re not saying they can’t use pens to block for public safety. We’re saying they can’t needlessly imprison people there.” The mayor’s press office referred calls to the NYPD press office. Detective Walter Burnes of the press office said that police “absolutely” plan to issue protest permits to qualified groups. But in order to discuss the matter with an official involved in NYPD’s planning, Burnes required a written request. That written request was provided by The National Law Journal, but went unanswered. 1,000 daily arrests? The NYPD is predicting arrests of as many as 1,000 demonstrators each day, according to the district attorney’s office. Both prosecutors and legal aid groups are gearing up for the hefty demands that could be placed on the city’s legal system. In his March 9 address to the New York City Council Public Safety Committee, Robert M. Morgenthau, the district attorney for Manhattan, said his office would need “budgetary flexibility” to deal with the high volume of arrests. “NYPD anticipates that we could have up to 1,000 arrests a day, three times our normal volume,” Morgenthau told the city council. “The courts are planning for 12 arraignment parts a day rather than the normal four.” Barbara Thompson, a spokeswoman at the district attorney’s office, said the office has received neither additional money nor prosecutors to handle the swell. Thompson said that it will have to “cope” with it. The Legal Aid Society, as the largest provider of criminal defense services in the city, will also be trying to cope. The group anticipates that some of those arrested will be transferred to parts of the city lying outside the borough of Manhattan, and stressed the need to safeguard speedy access to counsel. “We have also heard reports that other borough courthouses will be used to arraign demonstrators,” William Gibney, a senior attorney with the special litigation unit of Legal Aid’s Criminal Defense Division, recently told the city council. “Plans for prompt access to defense counsel for those who are arrested must be included in the plans for the convention.” The National Lawyers Guild, a volunteer legal services group, is also working on finding resources to mount defenses for arrested protesters, according to Executive Director Heidi Boghosian. “We’ve been planning for months to send out letters to recruit guild lawyers to provide as much support as possible,” said Boghosian. Meanwhile, protest groups say they plan to march with or without permits. “You can’t bring the Republicans here without expecting large groups of protesters,” asserted John Penley, minister of information at the left-leaning Youth International Party. Penley’s group, better known as the Yippies, first grabbed attention for their pie-throwing tactics in the 1960s and 1970s to protest the Vietnam War. The group filed for permits to camp near the East River and in Tompkins Square Park, but the city denied the request. Penley said their lawyer, Lynne Stewart, decided not to push the matter in court since it was a “no-win situation” that could lead to sanctions against the lawyers. Stewart is already facing charges of providing material support to a man accused of conspiring to blow up New York City landmarks.

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