Northern California Jewish Bulletin November 27, 1998

ADL claims court ruling victory in `spying' lawsuit


Bulletin Staff

     After five years of court appeals and motions on
secret files, Anti-Defamation League attorneys in San
Francisco say the end is in sight for a class-action
lawsuit filed against the agency by pro-Palestinian and
anti-apartheid activists.

     Last week, a ruling by the California 1st District
Court of Appeals determined that the ADL could be defined
as a journalistic organization.  As such, the agency can
keep confidential any information gathered in a
journalistic manner.

     The ruling severely restricts the plaintiffs in
gathering evidence for the case and may thwart their
efforts to bring the case to trial, ADL  attorneys said.

     "Not only are we delighted with the ruling...but we
are also delighted in the context of this lawsuit which
means that [the plaintiffs] are not  going to have
anything because there isn't anything for them to have,"
said Stephen Bomse, an ADL lawyer.

     Former Congressman Pete McCloskey, attorney for the
activists, did not return phone calls. But in news
accounts from the San Francisco Examiner  and the
Chronicle, the Woodside attorney called the ruling a
victory because  it affirmed his right to future
discovery, albeit limited. The ruling, he  said, would
enable him to take the case to trial.

     The activists' lawsuit followed police raids on the
San Francisco and Los Angeles ADL offices in 1992, during
which confidential files were confiscated. The files
revealed the names of individuals in activist  groups
that the ADL had been monitoring.

     The ADL settled a civil suit brought by the city of
San Francisco over charges that the organization
illegally acquired confidential government information
found in the files. Two years ago, the ADL also settled
a related class-action suit brought by a dozen
human-rights groups.

     The activists in the current case asserted in 1993
that the ADL illegally obtained and disseminated private
records of 17 individuals. Such information, the
activists claimed, was used to blacklist individuals.

     The ADL, which publishes various reports, books and
special bulletins as part of its hate-monitoring
activities, argued that it was merely  gathering
information about terrorists and other hate groups. It
denied having any blacklist.

     ADL lead attorneys Bomse and David Goldstein said
that in light of last week's ruling, they will file a
motion for the judge to dismiss the case  for lack of

     "I think now we are going to move very aggressively
to have this end in ADL's favor -- and short of trial,"
Bomse said. "We think we can get the claims thrown out in
short order."

     Barbara Bergen, the ADL's regional director, said
her organization has no intention of settling with the
activists because its attorneys are  confident they would
prevail in court.

     Despite the ADL's newfound status as a media
organization, its attorneys said the case doesn't break
new legal ground. However, the agency is still vulnerable
to investigations into its practices by those who find
its surveillance of extremist groups equivalent to

     Bergen said there's been no evidence in either the
San Francisco district attorney's investigation or the
current case to suggest that the ADL has gathered
information illegally.

     "We are very cognizant of the limits of the law and
the methods of information gathering," she said. But she
conceded that "there may have  been instances" in which
an investigator for the ADL unknowingly acted outside the

     After settling its civil suit with the city of San
Francisco, the ADL reviewed its fact-finding methods. The
organization has not significantly changed its
investigative practices, Bergen said.