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Four months into her own practice, Washington, D.C., lawyer Houeida Saad got a desperate call for help. The caller had no money, but Saad took the case anyway — and became so committed that she gave it more than 2,000 hours, let her paying practice go, and sold her house so she could keep working on it. It was not an easy case on the law or the facts. The call was from the brother of a Palestinian, Hany Mahmoud Kiareldeen, a New Jersey resident who was in jail awaiting a deportation hearing, on evidence that the government said was too sensitive to reveal. Saad, a founder of the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom, tried to persuade five big Washington, D.C., firms and the local and national American Civil Liberties Union to take up the case. But the stain of representing someone whom the government alleged was an “Arab Muslim terrorist” made the case untouchable, Saad says, although the ACLU disputes that, saying that it gave advice later on the case and has since taken on similar cases. Saad had already begun to track Arabs being held by the Immigration and Naturalization Service using secret evidence — a tactic that she says smacked of McCarthyism. “When I became a lawyer, I swore to uphold the Constitution,” says Saad, an American University law graduate who came to this country from Lebanon when she was 12. “To me, it’s a national shame that we could have secret trials in the U.S. where the individual or their attorney does not have a right to confront the allegations against them and the witnesses the government has.” Saad had co-counsel on the case, Kiareldeen’s local immigration attorney, Regis Fernandez, a Newark, N.J., sole practitioner less than a year out of law school. He knew he needed help, especially on the federal aspects of the case. Fernandez, a 1997 Rutgers law graduate, made some sacrifices of his own. He matched Saad’s thousands of pro bono hours and juggled the heavy financial and professional burden of helping Kiareldeen by keeping his practice so bare-bones that he didn’t have a secretary. Saad and Fernandez’s commitment turned into a success. With help from David Cole and Nancy Chang at the Center for Constitutional Rights, Kiareldeen was freed after 19 months. A federal judge sharply criticized the government for its use of secret evidence. It was the first time that someone detained on such evidence and accused of terrorism had been released and the first federal court opinion calling secret evidence a due process violation. Kiareldeen came here as a student in 1990. His troubles started in April 1993, when he met Amal Kamal, an Egyptian immigrant, in a nightclub. Six months later, they married; three months later, she gave birth to their daughter. Marriage and fatherhood in quick succession squashed his educational aspirations as a mechanical engineer. He quit school to earn a living at an electronics store, but he never changed his immigration status. The marriage soon soured, and nasty fights over visitation ensued. In August 1997, Kiareldeen remarried, this time to a U.S. citizen. He filed belatedly for an adjustment of his immigration status. In March 1998, the INS arrested him as deportable for overstaying his student visa. Then things turned nasty. Federal officials fought efforts to release Kiareldeen on bond, saying he was a security threat. Eventually, the government gave Kiareldeen’s attorneys declassified summaries of the accusations against him: that he was part of a terrorist organization, that he was linked to the World Trade Center bombing, and that he had threatened to kill U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. To counteract the ex parte and in camera evidence that the INS had shown the immigration judge in charge of the case, Fernandez marshalled witnesses to vouch for Kiareldeen’s character. Fernandez suspected that the accusations came from Kiareldeen’s ex-wife. She had had him arrested half a dozen times at the end of their marriage and afterward for theft of her possessions, domestic violence, child abuse and other charges — all dismissed by the courts as groundless. Fernandez tried to call her to the stand to testify, but she refused, and further efforts to get her on the stand were thwarted. Saad had been aware of the case through the coalition and had been advising on it. At this stage, however, in October 1998, she was drawn into it. She was anxious to lay a foundation for an appeal and found an expert witness who could show that Kiareldeen wasn’t involved in the bombings. Her expert was Laurie Mylroie, who holds a Ph.D. from Harvard and had co-written a book on the World Trade Center bombing. Mylroie, who had lost members of her family in the Holocaust, was an unlikely ally for Kiareldeen. Saad recalls, “She was a self-proclaimed Zionist who was not a Palestinian sympathizer, who told me she would turn my client over to the FBI if I gave her documents that indicated or incriminated him in any way, or if she affiliated him with her documents, and I had no idea what documents she had.” She agreed to the conditions set by Mylroie, who quickly became convinced that the charges were absurd. Mylroie presented evidence, including phone records of those convicted, to prove that Kiareldeen was never in contact with them. No criminal charges were ever brought against Kiareldeen, and the government never did produce any witnesses, either from the INS or from the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. In April 1999, the immigration judge granted Kiareldeen’s request for adjusted status and granted his release. The INS immediately appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which stayed the judge’s release order. So Saad, turning away paying work and anticipating that the appeal would take 10 months, sold her house. That October, the appeals board affirmed the immigration judge’s decision but stayed the order, pending review by the attorney general. A few days later, U.S. District Judge William Walls granted Kiareldeen’s habeas petition in New Jersey and ordered his immediate release. The government appealed to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, Saad had seen a D.C. Bar Journal article on Latham & Watkins’ Bill Kelly, a pro bono award winner. She decided to put the firm to the test. Latham joined the coalition as counsel, and when Saad called in desperation about Mr. Kiareldeen’s case, Latham came through with the funds to print and bind the brief. The papers were filed; the government never responded. On Oct. 25, at about 11 p.m., a bewildered Kiareldeen was unshackled and pushed out the door of the Hudson County, N.J., Correctional Center. Saad says he was so frightened that he sat on the ground to show he wasn’t fleeing. A little later, Fernandez arrived, his coat thrown over his pajamas. Kiareldeen’s family and friends came with beer, food and Arab music to celebrate. Saad stayed with friends and relatives after selling her house. She now rents an apartment. She is an associate at Washington, D.C.’s O’Donnell, Schwartz & Anderson and continues as counsel to the coalition. Fernandez continues to work with Kiareldeen, who still has not seen his daughter. His ex-wife was placed in a witness protection program, and visitation disputes have continued. Fernandez says that he’s “trying to cut down on pro bono,” although he continues to cut his fees for poor immigration clients. His practice has become more difficult, he says. “[INS officials] fight me tooth and nail on all the cases; they appeal all my decisions.” Consequently, he’s begun brushing up on auto-injury law. “I’m trying to branch out to other areas,” he says.

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