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(Date: Wed, 30 Dec 98 22:03:12 -0000)
Published on September 17, 1998
         

Secrecy defended
by Jewish group

Fighting a lawsuit, Anti-Defamation League
says that its files should be given the same
protections as the work of journalists
(By Bob Egelko, ASSOCIATED PRESS) SAN FRANCISCO -- A Jewish civil rights organization, accused by pro-Palestinian and anti-apartheid activists of spying on them, told a state appeals court Wednesday that its files must remain secret even if they contain information illegally disclosed by government agencies. The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith acts as a journalist in gathering information and publishing reports on extremist groups, and it has the same right as any other journalist to keep its records and sources confidential, attorney Stephen Bomse told the 1st District Court of Appeal. "Courts say a government employee may be punished for violating a duty to keep information private, but if you are a journalist, you may not be punished" for receiving the information and sharing it with others, Bomse said. The ADL is appealing a judge's order allowing 17 activists to see material that the ADL may have gathered on them and on organizations supporting Palestinian rights and opposing South Africa's former apartheid government. The order, issued last September by Superior Court Judge Alex Saldamando, applies to internal ADL memos and to more than 10,000 ADL files seized by San Francisco police in 1992. A now-retired San Francisco police inspector, Tom Girard, later pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of illegally accessing government information. Girard's ADL contact, Roy Bullock, acknowledged selling information to the South African government, then Israel's ally. The ADL said he did it on his own, but admitted that some of its information was shared with the Israeli government. The ADL paid $75,000 to settle a civil suit by the city of San Francisco. The activists, who include some Jewish dissidents, were notified by police that their names were in the files. They contend the ADL illegally obtained confidential records from the state and used them to get people blacklisted among the organization's supporters. The ADL denies having a blacklist and says it was merely keeping tabs on hate groups and terrorists. The suit, which seeks class-action status for up to 1,000 people, relies on a state law banning the disclosure of confidential government information, and providing damages of $2,500 for each disclosure. Before the files were sealed, two activists learned they contained one man's Social Security number and another's driver's license. The suit has been stalled by the dispute over the confidentiality of ADL files. Material from the files is the activists' only hope of proving illegal disclosure -- as one appellate justice noted when Bomse argued that there was no evidence of lawbreaking that would justify invading a journalist's files. "The reason there may not be a scintilla of evidence is that your client has it and won't disclose it," said Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline. Justice Paul Haerle questioned whether the ADL was "operating as a journalist" when it allegedly obtained government records, which were supposed to be confidential, and transmitted them to foreign governments. Gathering and transmitting information is what journalists do, Bomse replied. Kline agreed, saying he assumed journalists regularly obtain records that should not have been disclosed, but added that the rules protecting journalists from suit for ferreting out newsworthy information about public figures might not apply to digging up an obscure activist's driver's license. The activists' lawyer, former Congressman Pete McCloskey, contended the ADL's journalistic status in some of its activities did not give it the right to disclose confidential government information, even to other ADL offices. Journalists lack "the power to invade privacy and transmit private records," he said. A ruling is due by the end of December. Edition: SRVT, Section: A, Page: 10 1998 Contra Costa Times

 


 

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