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Three years after John Lennon was assassinated, Morrison & Foerster partner Dan Marmalefsky launched a lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation to uncover the Nixon administration’s plan to deport the famous Beatle. Twenty-three years later, he’s still digging. A white-collar defense attorney in Los Angeles, Marmalefsky leads a team of three lawyers, pro bono, that represents a University of California, Irvine history professor, who, since 1983, has sought the release of FBI documents related to its surveillance of Lennon in the early 1970s. What started out as a compelling freedom-of-information challenge for a young Yale Law School graduate more than two decades ago has become a career-spanning endeavor. The case has outlived four presidential administrations, dozens of court appearances and, apparently, a film about the famous rock star, U.S. vs. John Lennon, in current release. His client, Jonathan Wiener, has chronicled the 23-year battle in the book, Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files, and was a consultant for the film, in which he appears. A cautionary tale Marmalefsky, now 50, said that he and two other attorneys have spent thousands of hours on the ongoing case, which he asserts goes to the heart of governmental intrusion. “It cautions us against the risk of allowing the government, without any checks and balances, to place ordinary people under surveillance,” he said. Much of Wiener v. FBI, No. CV-83-1720 (C.D. Calif.), settled in 1997 during the Clinton administration. In 1991, the issue of whether the FBI had sufficiently detailed its reasons for nondisclosure went up to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In that decision, Wiener v. FBI, 943 F.2d 972 (1991), the appeals court reversed the lower court and determined that the FBI’s degree of specificity was not adequate. Today, the parties continue to spar over a handful of remaining documents that U.S. District Judge Robert Takasugi in 2004 said the FBI must release. Government attorneys argue that releasing them could jeopardize the national security of an unnamed foreign government. Lennon was a British citizen. Although attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice have filed a notice of an appeal to Takasugi’s decision, it remains uncertain whether the U.S. Office of the Solicitor General, which must authorize the government’s pursuit of an appeal, will do so. A spokesman for the Office of Solicitor General said that, so far, no authorization had been granted. He declined to comment further. A grassroots threat Lennon drew the Nixon administration’s scrutiny because of his protests over the Vietnam war. Lennon’s ability to rally grassroots support for his views prompted FBI agents to document his whereabouts and monitor his appearances. Lennon, 40, was assassinated in 1980 in New York by Mark David Chapman. Other attorneys representing Wiener are Mark Rosenbaum and Peter Eliasberg, with the American Civil Liberties Union in Los Angeles. Since the case originally was filed, Marmalefsky has married and has a grown son. When he brought the suit in 1983, he was an associate at Hufstedler Miller Carlson & Beardsley in Los Angeles. Most of its attorneys, including Marmalefsky, joined Morrison & Foerster in 1995. American University Washington College of Law Professor Robert Vaughn, whose scholarship focuses on freedom-of-information issues, said that freedom-of-information disputes that go to litigation usually drag on a year or two. “Twenty-three years is a very long time,” he said.

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