LOS ANGELES — Six years after it was accused of illegal spying, the Anti-Defamation League agreed Monday to a federal court settlement preventing it from obtaining information from any state employee or officer when it knows--or should know--the act is unlawful.
The long-debated settlement, approved by U.S. District Judge Richard Paez, marks the final chapter in a suit initiated by former San Francisco Dist. Atty. Arlo Smith amid charges that associates of the Jewish civil rights group sold information on anti-apartheid groups to the government of South Africa.
Over time, the list of plaintiffs grew to include a number of groups and individuals who said the ADL hired intelligence agents with law enforcement connections to gather secret information about their activities.
While the city and county of San Francisco settled its case last month, those involved in Monday's settlement included former Rep. Mervyn Dymally (D-Los Angeles), former Los Angeles City Councilman Robert Farrell, the National Lawyers Guild and the National Assn. of Arab Americans.
"It is a fair settlement," said the plaintiff's chief counsel, Peter Schey of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law. "And I hope it convinces the ADL that it has better things to do with its limited resources than spy on sister civil rights organizations who in no way pose a threat to the Jewish community."
In the lawsuit, the long list of plaintiffs alleged that the ADL illegally collected confidential information from government files and law enforcement organizations on groups that included the African National Congress, the American Indian Movement and the Assn. of Vietnam Veterans.
In all, Schey said, a review of ADL's records uncovered files on more than 800 groups and individuals that contained secret information.
Under the settlement, he said, those files must be redacted or destroyed within the next 90 days. In addition, he said, the organization is permanently precluded from again collecting such information.