[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.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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