City Attorney Seeking Notes From War Resisters’ Meetings
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A lawyer for the city is asking to examine notes from War Resisters League meetings, claiming they could help the city’s defense against lawsuits filed by protesters arrested during the Republican National Convention.
The city lawyer, Peter Farrell, asked a federal judge Friday to uphold a subpoena to the pacifist group.
It is unusual for the city to subpoena minutes of meetings held by political organizations, said several lawyers who represent arrested protesters in lawsuits against the city. The city has already received a redacted set of minutes from three War Resisters League meetings, a lawyer representing a member of the organization said.
The portions of meeting minutes now in the city’s possession only pertain to plans the league made for a march scheduled during the 2004 convention, the lawyer, Michael Spiegel, said. The minutes turned over to the city excluded political exchanges and the political discussions that took place during the meetings, held in July and August 2004, Mr. Spiegel said in an interview.
The march that the league organized ended in the arrests of 227 people on Fulton Street on August 31, 2004. The protesters did not have a parade permit, but they had come to an agreement with police that morning about the conditions under which they could conduct the march. The police department maintains the protesters reneged on their promise by obstructing the sidewalk.
The city arrested and detained about 1,800 protesters and bystanders during the convention and faces lawsuits from hundreds of those arrested.
Mr. Farrell did not say specifically what relevant information he expected to find in a copy of the minutes that was not redacted.
He assured the magistrate-judge handling the case, James Francis IV, that the city was not asking for a membership list of people connected to the league. The subpoena did not threaten the constitutional rights of the political group, he said.
“Planning to engage in unlawful conduct,” Mr. Farrell said, “is not protected by the First Amendment.”
A lawyer representing the War Resisters League said that it would fight the subpoena.
“The city’s efforts to obtain the thoughts of the members of the War Resisters League violates their rights to free speech and assembly,” an attorney representing the group, Myron Beldock, said in an interview. “The information they seek is not relevant to the issues in the cases because they have nothing to do with probable cause to arrest.”
The city has also subpoenaed the National Lawyers Guild, which had organized observers to monitor the actions of police officers during the convention. The president of the New York City chapter of the organization, Martin Stolar, said in an interview, the subpoena sought relevant videotapes and photographs in the guild’s possession and for a copy of the guild’s training guide for observers, which is available publicly on the guild’s Web site.