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Mark Zaid, of counsel at Washington, D.C.’s, Lobel, Novins & Lamont, has a lot more nerve than most lawyers. He’s turning the screws on 1,600 federal judges. The 32-year-old Zaid represents APBnews.com, the crime and justice Web site that’s fighting for access to the financial disclosure statements of the entire federal bench. In December he filed a First Amendment suit against the U.S. Judicial Conference, which had refused to release the statements because the New York-based APB Online, Inc., planned to post them in searchable archives on its Web site. The suit, along with prodding from conference chair Chief Justice William Rehnquist, prompted a change of heart. In March the conference agreed to hand over the disclosure statements — as long as sensitive information such as workplace addresses of spouses was redacted. But as of mid-May, APB has yet to receive a single disclosure statement — so Zaid’s fight goes on. What’s the holdup? The government, represented by assistant U.S. attorney Daniel Alter, says the conference is just following the agreed-upon security procedures for releasing the documents. Zaid doesn’t buy that explanation. “It’s bureaucratic retaliation,” he says of the delay. In response, he recently enlisted Senators Patrick Leahy and Charles Grassley of the Senate Judiciary Committee to send a letter to the director of the courts demanding an accounting for the foot-dragging. “The more they deliberately continue to take their time,” says Zaid, “the more we will continue to push.” Zaid, a Freedom of Information Act expert and longtime JFK assassination buff, has built a career on prying records from secretive public bodies. He successfully tried his first big FOIA case in 1996, when he represented the son of a former CIA agent who sought copies of his father’s autobiography and other personal papers confiscated by the agency in 1971. Since then, the 1992 Albany Law School graduate has brought FOIA suits against the FBI, U.S. Army, and Department of Defense, to name a few. As it turns out, Michael Ravnitzky, APB’s in-house legal director, shares Zaid’s freedom of information obsession. The two originally hooked up in 1996 in a FOIA e-mail discussion. Four years and many messages later, Ravnitzky hired Zaid to take on the federal bench. “I thought his experience would come in handy with this case,” says Ravnitzky. He contends that Zaid is one of only about 20 lawyers nationwide who have a solid grasp of FOIA issues. Zaid did feel some extra trepidation about taking APB’s case. After all, he adds, he’s already spent years annoying government agencies. “I didn’t necessarily need the judges perturbed with me, too.” In March the government moved to dismiss APB’s suit, arguing that the conference’s decision to hand over the redacted disclosure statements renders the case moot. Zaid argues that the suit is not moot until APB actually gets the documents. And even then, he adds, the fight might not be won. “If we get the documents with unreasonable redactions,” says Zaid, “we’ll continue to challenge.”

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