Date: Wed, 30 Dec 98 22:03:12 -0000

Published on September 17, 1998

Secrecy defended by Jewish group

Fighting a lawsuit, Anti-Defamation League says that its
files should be given the same protections as the work of


SAN FRANCISCO -- A Jewish civil rights organization,
accused by pro-Palestinian and anti-apartheid activists
of spying on them, told a state appeals court Wednesday
that its files must remain secret even if they contain
information illegally disclosed by government agencies.

     The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith acts as
a journalist in gathering information and publishing
reports on extremist groups, and it has the same right as
any other journalist to keep its records and sources
confidential, attorney Stephen Bomse told the 1st
District Court of Appeal.

     "Courts say a government employee may be punished
for violating a duty to keep information private, but if
you are a journalist, you may not be punished" for
receiving the information and sharing it with others,
Bomse said.

     The ADL is appealing a judge's order allowing 17
activists to see material that the ADL may have gathered
on them and on organizations supporting Palestinian
rights and opposing South Africa's former apartheid

     The order, issued last September by Superior Court
Judge Alex Saldamando, applies to internal ADL memos and
to more than 10,000 ADL files seized by San Francisco
police in 1992.

     A now-retired San Francisco police inspector, Tom
Girard, later pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge
of illegally accessing government information.

     Girard's ADL contact, Roy Bullock, acknowledged
selling information to the South African government, then
Israel's ally. The ADL said he did it on his own, but
admitted that some of its information was shared with the
Israeli government. The ADL paid $75,000 to settle a
civil suit by the city of San Francisco.

     The activists, who include some Jewish dissidents,
were notified by police that their names were in the
files. They contend the ADL illegally obtained
confidential records from the state and used them to get
people blacklisted among the organization's supporters.
The ADL denies having a blacklist and says it was merely
keeping tabs on hate groups and terrorists.

     The suit, which seeks class-action status for up to
1,000 people, relies on a state law banning the
disclosure of confidential government information, and
providing damages of $2,500 for each disclosure. Before
the files were sealed, two activists learned they
contained one man's Social Security number and another's
driver's license.

     The suit has been stalled by the dispute over the
confidentiality of ADL files. Material from the files is
the activists' only hope of proving illegal disclosure --
as one appellate justice noted when Bomse argued that
there was no evidence of lawbreaking that would justify
invading a journalist's files.

     "The reason there may not be a scintilla of evidence
is that your client has it and won't disclose it," said
Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline.

     Justice Paul Haerle questioned whether the ADL was
"operating as a journalist" when it allegedly obtained
government records, which were supposed to be
confidential, and transmitted them to foreign

     Gathering and transmitting information is what
journalists do, Bomse replied. Kline agreed, saying he
assumed journalists regularly obtain records that should
not have been disclosed, but added that the rules
protecting journalists from suit for ferreting out
newsworthy information about public figures might not
apply to digging up an obscure activist's driver's

     The activists' lawyer, former Congressman Pete
McCloskey, contended the ADL's journalistic status in
some of its activities did not give it the right to
disclose confidential government information, even to
other ADL offices.

     Journalists lack "the power to invade privacy and
transmit private records," he said.

     A ruling is due by the end of December.

Edition: SRVT, Section: A, Page: 10
1998 Contra Costa Times