Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Last week’s horrific terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon couldn’t have come at a worse time for one of Charles White’s clients. On Oct. 9, White, a solo civil rights and criminal defense lawyer in Coconut Grove, Fla., is scheduled to go to trial in federal court in West Palm Beach, representing Raed Aldin, a Palestinian-American. Aldin faces conspiracy charges in connection with allegations that he aided a nationwide ring that supplied the drug pseudoephedrine to illegal labs that turned the substance into methamphetamine, commonly known as speed. Before the attacks, White says, he felt confident that he had a winning defense. He contends that Aldin simply moved boxes as an employee for Seaside Pharmaceuticals, the Fort Lauderdale business raided by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents last year, and that he knew nothing about their contents; Aldin believed he was moving cough medicine. But after last Tuesday’s attacks, which authorities say were almost certainly carried out by Arab terrorists, White says his client thinks there’s no way he can receive a fair trial in Palm Beach County. That’s not only because of the large Jewish population, which his client suspects is prejudiced against Palestinians, but also because of the heightened public suspicion of Arabs, and Muslims in general. White says that finding impartial jurors could prove challenging. “My client is definitely worried that because he is Arab,” White says, “a jury may decide to find him guilty without evaluating the evidence.” White says he has no plans of asking for a delay in the case, explaining that whether he tries the case next month or next year, the strong feelings stirred by last week’s attacks aren’t likely to diminish. But he says he will have to rigorously question potential jurors about potential anti-Arab bias. Criminal defense and civil rights lawyers in Florida fear that their clients and causes may suffer in the aftermath of the terror attacks. They say that while litigants, suspects and criminal defendants of Arab descent have the most to fear, the rights of all Americans in the justice system may be in jeopardy. They particularly fear that law enforcement officials and prosecutors will use the increased public concern over terrorism to justify greater use of secret evidence and more blatant violations of privacy. Some local attorneys, especially those representing foreign clients in civil rights, immigration and criminal matters, say they already are seeing the effects. Meanwhile, law firms, always extremely conscious about their reputation and social standing in the community, find themselves grappling with the implications and potential consequences of representing Arab clients in cases that could be even remotely construed to involve U.S. security interests. POSTPONING TRIALS Some lawyers with clients of Arab descent are pressing to postpone trials and hearings until the general public calms down. Those attorneys who are unable to reschedule trials say they’re having to recraft their legal arguments to take account of the public’s general mood and attitude toward Arabs and Muslims. Oscar Sanchez, a partner in the Miami office of Akerman Senterfitt, is currently trying a case in which a client he describes as “ethnic” — he declined to say whether he was Arab — is seeking damages from a developer as a result of the developer’s alleged failure to properly prepare the sewer connections and other infrastructure for a home the plaintiff was planning to build in the development. Sanchez admits that, after last week’s attacks, he’s worried about how sympathetically the jury will view his client. He says he may have to adjust some of his planned arguments. “It’s something I’m trying to figure out how to deal with now,” he says. On Monday, Fred Haddad, a prominent criminal defense attorney in Fort Lauderdale, is scheduled to represent Palestinian immigrant Ayid Azzeh in a murder trial. Azzeh is accused of killing a man at a Harbor Beach Marriott Resort in Fort Lauderdale in 1996. Azzeh was a cook at the resort and allegedly stabbed kitchen co-worker John Narcavage to death. Haddad, who plans to use an insanity defense, has arranged for a witness and psychiatrist both of whom are Palestinian immigrants to testify. But because of last week’s terror attacks, he has been pressing to postpone the trial. “This just isn’t the right time for a case like this and for a client like mine,” says Haddad. Haddad’s father was half Lebanese, but he says he has experienced no discrimination since the terror attacks due to his Arabic surname. Haddad is worried that the effects of the terrorist attacks on the legal system could extend far beyond cases involving terrorism. He fears conservatives will try to use the attacks as an excuse to chip away at constitutional rights to privacy and fair trials in all kinds of criminal cases. “I hope conservatives in this country understand that preserving individual civil rights is just as important as finding terrorists or other criminals,” Haddad says. “We can’t trample on the Constitution in the name of preserving safety.” Civil rights advocates are keeping a close eye on any potential legislation that would curtail individual liberties. The Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco predicts that elected officials will propose a range of severe antiterrorist measures that could infringe on the liberties of many Americans. These could range from increased e-mail surveillance to greater use of facial recognition systems, which authorities use to spot wanted criminal suspects in public places. One of the group’s biggest concerns is that these measures will be used to single out certain ethnic groups, especially Arabs. SECRET EVIDENCE Martin Schwartz, a solo immigration attorney in Tampa, Fla., has seen what can happen when the government violates civil liberties. He represented Mazen Al-Najjar, a native of the United Arab Emirates who is an engineer and former professor at the University of South Florida near Tampa. Al-Najjar entered the U.S. on a student visa in 1981; when the visa expired he stayed on. In 1985, the Immigration and Naturalization Service opened deportation hearings against Al-Najjar for having overstayed his visa, but those proceedings were terminated in 1986 by a hearing official exercising his discretion. In 1995, Al-Najjar asked that his case be reopened so he could apply for political asylum and permanent residency. His petition for political asylum was rejected in May 1997 on the grounds that he did not sufficiently demonstrate that he faced persecution in the United Arab Emirates. That same month, the INS detained Al-Najjar as a deportable alien. It cited secret evidence that he was “suspected of affiliation with a known terrorist organization.” As a result, Al-Najjar was held in detention for three years. Finally, with Schwartz’s help, he was released last December. Schwartz convinced an immigration judge that the public evidence against him was insufficient. In July, the Justice Department dropped its appeal of Al-Najjar’s release. Schwartz says he fears that immigrants like Al-Najjar increasingly will be targeted by government agencies under the rubric of anti-terrorism action. “It does look like immigrants are going to be more vulnerable in the future,” Schwartz says. “Increasingly, we will see arrests taking place under the guise of immigration violations. It’s obvious this is just an effort to get information out of people.” Before the attacks, Schwartz says he saw mixed signals from the Bush administration on the use of secret evidence. Attorney General John Ashcroft recently said that the use of secret evidence generally would “not be appropriate.” On Monday, a spokesman for the Department of Justice reiterated Ashcroft’s comments about the use of secret evidence, saying investigators prefer to make their case by presenting all pertinent evidence for public scrutiny. But at the same time, he says, there are cases where the evidence against suspected terrorists was acquired by undercover intelligence agents. Their identities need to be protected to ensure their safety. “The Department of Justice understands the value of the civil rights of U.S. citizens,” the spokesman said. “But at the same time, we have to protect those government agents that put themselves in harm’s way to obtain that information. It’s a delicate balance.” Ashcroft said Sunday that he will send to Congress a legislative package this week seeking expanded government powers to wiretap suspected terrorists. He contended that such powers are necessary because it’s harder for federal agents to wiretap terrorists than organized crime figures. Last week, the Senate passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., which would expand the Justice Department’s authority to intercept wire, oral and electronic communications, and make it easier to snoop on computers. The bill also would rescind limitations on the recruitment of agents with “unsavory” backgrounds. Trent Lott, the Senate Republican leader, told The New York Times that when the country is at war, some individual freedoms may be diluted. “When you are at war, civil liberties are treated differently,” he said. But Arab-American groups are upset that President Bush has taken no position on a bill, co-sponsored by Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., and Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., which would prohibit the use of secret evidence against immigrants accused of ties to terrorists. Last fall, a half-dozen Arab-American and Muslim groups endorsed Bush for president, at least partly because he took a position during one of the presidential debates against the use of secret evidence. LAWYERS LEERY While those of Arab descent are likely to face increasing scrutiny from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, they aren’t going to find a slew of attorneys willing to represent them. After taking the Al-Najjar case, Schwartz says, he tried to enlist the help of other lawyers. He met with lawyers from large and midsize law firms, but was repeatedly rebuffed. The reasons for law firms’ reluctance varies, Schwartz says. Many of these clients can’t afford legal fees, and some firms don’t want to take their cases pro bono. Larger firms don’t want to be associated with any case even potentially involving terrorist connections. In general, smaller boutique firms were more open to the idea of helping out. Something else that scares off lawyers is the potential of coming under surveillance by law enforcement or intelligence agencies. While working on the Al-Najjar case, Schwartz noticed unusual sounds on his phone whenever he was on the line. “I have no doubt I was being monitored,” Schwartz says. Even before the terrorists crashed those hijacked jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Schwartz saw growing signs of law enforcement agencies encroaching on privacy and individual liberties. In the Ybor City nightlife section of Tampa, there’s a camera on most street corners. They are used to compare faces with a criminal database. “It’s going to be a different world,” Schwartz warns. “Everything is going to change.” Some Florida law firms are coming face to face with the legal, ethical, moral and political challenges arising from the terror attacks. They are receiving requests to represent individuals being questioned about their role. But, so far, they’re being close-mouthed about their involvement. Gabriel Imperato, managing partner of the Fort Lauderdale office of Broad and Cassel, acknowledges that his firm has received requests for representation from individuals of Arab ethnicity who have been contacted for questioning. Imperato refuses to say whether his firm will represent any of these people. Given that several of the last week’s apparent attackers were trained to fly in Florida and that they may have had other associates living in the state, it wouldn’t be surprising if more Florida lawyers receive such calls.

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.