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Anti-Defamation League Settles Lawsuit by Civil Rights Groups

Court: Organization was accused of getting secret information on blacks, Arabs. It denies wrongdoing but agrees to safeguards.

September 04, 1996|HENRY WEINSTEIN | TIMES LEGAL AFFAIRS WRITER

A bevy of civil rights organizations has reached a tentative settlement of a federal lawsuit against the Anti-Defamation League, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles Tuesday.

The suit, filed in 1993 by groups representing Arab Americans and African Americans, alleged that the league hired intelligence agents with close police ties to gather secret information about their activities.

The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group, has consistently contended that it broke no laws and the organization does not admit wrongdoing in the settlement.

It agreed to an injunction restraining the organization from obtaining information from any state employee or officer where the ADL knows or is "reckless in failing to know" that the person disclosing the information is forbidden by law to do so.

Among the league's activities is research on what it considers to be extremists, such as skinheads and militias. The settlement does not bar the league "from obtaining any document or information that is not expressly precluded by law from disclosure or where such activities are legally or constitutionally protected."

The Anti-Defamation League also agreed to review certain files in its California and New York offices to identify and remove certain confidential information, if such information is found.

Additionally, the league agreed to contribute $25,000 to a fund to support programs and projects that try to improve relations between Jewish, African American and other minority communities in the United States.

"We're happy with the settlement," said attorney Peter A. Schey of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, one of several public interest law organizations representing the plaintiffs. "We think it is fair and addresses the important 1st Amendment issues of freedom of association and freedom of expression that were in the complaint.

"We hope the settlement gets the ADL out of the business of spying on organizations and individuals with whom it should be collaborating in joint work against hate groups," Schey added.

Jerry Shapiro, associate director of the league's Los Angeles office, said "the agreement we've reached confirms our consistent position that ADL has engaged in no misconduct of any kind and that ADL may continue to gather information in any lawful or constitutionally protected manner."

Shapiro said the $25,000 contribution is "an extension of our work in prejudice reduction. It is not a penalty."

Among the plaintiffs who agreed to the settlement are former Lt. Gov. Mervyn Dymally, former Los Angeles City Councilman Robert Farrell, the American Indian Movement, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Bay Area Anti-Apartheid Network, the Coalition Against Police Abuse, the Committee in Solidarity With the People of El Salvador, the National Conference of Black Lawyers and the National Lawyers Guild.

The settlement must be approved by U.S. District Judge Richard Paez.

Schey said settlement negotiations are still pending with other defendants named in the suit--law enforcement authorities in Los Angeles and San Francisco counties.

The suit was filed when then-San Francisco Dist. Atty. Arlo Smith was conducting a probe into alleged illegal spying by the Anti-Defamation League. A month later, in November 1993 Smith agreed not to prosecute the organization in exchange for its payment of up to $75,000 to the County of San Francisco to fight hate crimes. The league also pledged not to engage in improper information-gathering activities in California.

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