[Ppnews] Sami Al Arian - Florida Plea Bargain Revisited As Legal Battle Rages On

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Feb 6 10:32:10 EST 2009

Florida Plea Bargain Revisited As Legal Battle Rages On
Government must hand over important information on 2006 Plea Bargain 
/ Other motions put off for another hearing

February 5, 2009 - Alexandria, VA - An important hearing was held 
today in the criminal contempt case of Dr. Sami Al-Arian. Although 
Judge Leonie Brinkema of the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA) had 
originally been expected to rule on several motions submitted by both 
the defense and government, she postponed her decision.Instead, the 
judge chose to focus on the defense's motion to compel discovery, 
that is, to force the government to hand over crucial evidence 
regarding Dr. Al-Arian's original plea agreement concluded in 2006. 
In a move that could prove pivotal to Dr. Al-Arian's defense, Judge 
Brinkema granted that request.

        Since Dr. Al-Arian was first called before a grand jury in 
October 2006, his attorneys have argued that the Florida plea bargain 
exempts Dr. Al-Arian from having to cooperate with the government 
(including testifying). During the negotiations over the plea 
agreement in early 2006, Dr. Al-Arian's then-attorneys submitted 
affidavits saying that Dr. Al-Arian's non-cooperation was 
non-negotiable. In a subsequent hearing held in November of that 
year, government prosecutor Terry Zitek stated in no uncertain terms 
that the cooperation clause was deliberately removed: "It's not 
there, and we're [the government] not...complaining that the 
defendant Al-Arian has refused to cooperate." To date, the government 
has not turned in any evidence on the plea negotiations, nor has it 
tried to rely on earlier drafts of the agreement which contain the 
cooperation clause that was ultimately removed.

           Over the government's strenuous objections, Judge Brinkema 
maintained that the facts in "this unique case" are incomplete and 
that she could not proceed without more information from the record. 
She further said that she saw "a hole in this case," given that the 
prosecution has, until now, not submitted any evidence regarding what 
transpired in the 2006 plea negotiations. The judge also stressed 
that, since this is now a criminal case, it is critical that she 
possess all the relevant information.

        Today's ruling will compel the government to produce facts 
and documents that will help determine whether Dr. Al-Arian was 
acting in good faith when he maintained that his plea agreement 
exempted him from having to testify before subsequent grand juries. 
In addition, the judge noted that, should the case move to the point 
of sentencing, this information would likely be necessary.

        Eyebrows were raised when the lead government prosecutor 
himself, Gordon Kromberg, conceded in court today that the government 
had in fact removed the cooperation clause from the plea bargain upon 
the insistence of Dr. Al-Arian. Mr. Kromberg, however, tried to argue 
that the Eastern District of Virginia was not bound by the terms of 
the agreement. The judge, for her part, pointed out that the plea 
agreement was concluded with the Department of Justice (DOJ) as a 
whole, and that the DOJ could not be allowed to "compartmentalize" 
itself and that the understanding of the plea agreement is indeed "at 
the heart of the case."

        Beyond the issue of the Florida plea agreement, the next step 
in the case will be for the judge to revisit the remaining motions 
submitted by Dr. Al-Arian, as they will determine what defenses will 
be allowed during the March 9th trial. In an earlier hearing, Judge 
Brinkema denied the government's motion which sought to bar Dr. 
Al-Arian from arguing that he was acting on the advice of his 
attorney's counsel when he decided to refuse to testify before a 
grand jury on March 20th, 2008. Nevertheless, the government has 
asked the judge to reconsider.

        Around twenty friends and supporters attended the hearing 
today, some hailing from as far away as Tampa, Florida. The Tampa Bay 
Coalition for Justice and Peace would like to thank all those who 
came, as well as everyone else who was there in spirit. Every bit of 
support does make a difference.

        The March 9th trial is fast approaching. The next hearing 
(which has yet to be scheduled) will also be very important, since 
the judge is expected to decide what defenses will be allowed in 
trial. Further updates will be provided in the near future.

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