ECBAWM recently partnered with non-profit investigative news organization The Intercept to compel access to public records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The project was born out of the need Intercept’s global journalists have for access to documents and their frustration with red tape and delays. When journalists are unable to timely access government records, stories are unable to be written and the public’s ability to be informed is jeopardized.
To date, ECBAWM has filed three lawsuits against the federal government on behalf of The Intercept, seeking to compel the National Institutes of Health to release information about a potential conflict of interest involving an American doctor who is part of the World Health Organization’s investigation into what caused the coronavirus pandemic, seeking the release of information relating to force-feeding procedures on a detainee at a border immigration facility by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, and seeking information that the U.S. Department of State has refused to release about a citizen journalism group covering abuses during the Syrian civil war.
“There’s nothing like an Article III federal judge with life tenure, looking down from the bench at lawyers and saying ‘you have to do this’ to make things happen,” said ECBAWM partner Andrew G. Celli, Jr.
Through litigation, ECBAWM aims to ensure that government records are provided to reporters when they need them, while also helping the courts understand the need for timely access.
“In each of these cases, the hope is that there’s broader change and that the agencies start being more responsive,” said ECBAWM partner Debra L. Greenberger. “But there’s also the specific result in the cases, which is we get to know information that we want to know.”
You can read more about ECBAWM’s work with The Intercept in Law360’s interview with Celli and Greenberger.
Free Speech for People, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP, and Lathrop GPM LLP, filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of plaintiffs The Council on American-Islamic Relations of Minnesota and the League of Women Voters of Minnesota against a private mercenary contractor, Atlas Aegis, for voter intimidation in Minnesota. The complaint alleges that Atlas Aegis’s plan to hire and deploy armed ex-soldiers to polling sites in the state constitutes illegal voter intimidation under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
More coverage of the lawsuit can be found on The Minnesota Reformer, Talking Points Memo, and Minneapolis Star Tribune.
ECBAWM attorneys Jonathan S. Abady, Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, O. Andrew F. Wilson, Debra L. Greenberger, and Vivake Prasad represent the plaintiffs, together with Free Speech For People and Lathrop GPM LLP.
On May 8, 2020, a New York state court ruled that ECBAWM client Stanley “Skip” Karol may rent out a portion of his Brooklyn home through Airbnb. The court directed the City to return the thousands of dollars in fines it had levied against Mr. Karol and to “[l]eave the poor guy alone.” The City had ticketed Mr. Karol for renting out his basement through Airbnb. ECBAWM attorneys filed a case challenging the legality of those tickets, and the Court ruled in Mr. Karol’s favor.
Reporting on the decision appears in the New York Daily News and in Politico.
Mr. Karol is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Debra L. Greenberger, and Andrew K. Jondahl.
On July 3, 2019, after nearly three years of litigation, ECBAWM won a significant constitutional victory when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the unsealing of court records in Giuffre v. Maxwell. The firm appeared on behalf of Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, an intervenor in the case, and it successfully argued that the wholesale sealing of records by the district judge violated the First Amendment’s “presumption of openness” for judicial documents; the presumption, the court reaffirmed, is essential to ensuring transparency and public oversight of the courts.
ECBAWM’s application for unsealing was followed by related applications filed by The Miami Herald and another media outlet, both of which were also granted.
Professor Dershowitz was represented by Andrew G. Celli, Jr. and David Lebowitz.
“Dershowitz Wins Unsealing of Epstein-Related Defamation Case,” BigLawBusiness
“Appeals court orders unsealing of records in sex-tinged case,” AP
As reported on CNN, ECBAWM filed suit against the MTA on June 18, 2019, alleging that it violated the First Amendment rights of Dame Products, a company that designs and manufactures innovative tools for women’s sexual pleasure and wellness.
Dame submitted proposed advertisements for its toys to the MTA in July 2018. At first, the MTA approved certain advertisements and provided Dame with creative feedback over the course of six months. Then, the MTA suddenly changed course and refused to display Dame’s advertisements on subways and other MTA property, even though the MTA already displays numerous ads for erectile dysfunction medication, condoms, and other products geared towards men. The Complaint details how the MTA’s decision to ban Dame’s advertisement amounts to unconstitutional censorship and reflects the MTA’s sexist views of women’s sexual health.
Dame is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Richard Emery and Emma L. Freeman.
On March 1, 2019, ECBAWM won a significant victory on behalf of Stephanie Rosenfeld, a victim of a months-long illegal wiretap scheme perpetrated by an Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn. Rejecting the City of New York’s efforts to absolve itself of any responsibility for the misconduct of one of its employees, the Court ruled that the City could be held liable for the unlawful wiretapping scheme under the Wiretap Act, the Stored Communications Act, the U.S. Constitution, and state law. The case is now proceeding to discovery against the City of New York, the Assistant District Attorney who conducted the illegal wiretaps, and other officials within the Brooklyn DA’s office.
Richard D. Emery, Sam Shapiro, and Jessica Clarke represent Ms. Rosenfeld.
Sociologist Shamus Khan, Chair and Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, praises the work of ECBAWM in a forthcoming article in Sociological Forum magazine. The article, entitled “The Subpoena of Ethnographic Data,” describes the ethical and legal challenges faced when Prof. Khan, a renowned scholar of gender, sexuality, and cultural elites, received a document subpoena seeking the production of ethnographic data. The data in question was collected by Prof. Khan at St. Paul’s School, an elite prep school which Khan profiled in his ground-breaking book Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School. The subpoena arose from a civil suit brought by a young woman who, as a student at St. Paul’s, alleged that she had been sexually assaulted by another student. The case gained national attention and the accused young man was found guilty of statutory rape. The subpoena sought, among other things, copies of Prof. Khan’s contemporaneous field notes of observations he had made of students, faculty, and administrators while living on the campus of St. Paul’s in 2004-2005. Describing ECBAWM as a “powerful law firm” and thanking ECBAWM partner Andrew G. Celli, Jr. for “his counsel,” the article details the firm’s successful effort to force the withdrawal of the subpoena. The firm invoked case law that extends the First-Amendment-based “journalist’s privilege” to academic researchers like Prof. Khan. In addition to Mr. Celli, firm associate David Lebowitz handled the matter for Prof. Khan.
New York Law Journal featured Daniel J. Kornstein as a panelist at the New York City Bar’s Second Annual First Amendment Program: “Freedom of Speech in 21st Century America.” The other panelists were Roger Juan Maldonado, Nadine Strossen, Alex Abdo, Jamal Greene, Floyd Abrams, and Carmelyn Malalis.
In a victory for the First Amendment, a New York judge granted ECBAWM’s motion on behalf of the Avaaz Foundation, a global civic movement, to quash a sweeping document subpoena issued by the Monsanto Company, the multi-billion-dollar agricultural and biotech giant. The subpoena sought access to three-and-a-half years’ worth of Avaaz’s confidential political communications, internal strategy memos, and campaign plans – its political “playbook,” in the judge’s words – for its ongoing, worldwide effort to persuade governments around the world to ban the chemical agent glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup® products. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has concluded that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” and a California jury recently found that Roundup® caused a school groundskeeper’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
In quashing the subpoena, Justice Shlomo Hagler of the New York County Supreme Court ruled that Monsanto’s request would have a “tremendous chilling effect” on the protected First Amendment activities of Avaaz and other civic organizations. Giving Monsanto access to Avaaz’s internal communications, Justice Hagler explained, would discourage Avaaz and its members from participating in “a movement they feel is just and right.” Justice Hagler also ruled that the documents Monsanto sought were “utterly irrelevant” to a Missouri lawsuit for which it purportedly sought them. If enforced, the subpoena would have required Avaaz to produce its campaign plans, strategy deliberations, and research to Monsanto. ECBAWM attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Jr. and Doug Lieb represent Avaaz in this matter.
Law360, The Guardian, DownToEarth magazine, EcoWatch, and other media outlets have been following the case.
On July 18, 2018, ECBAWM filed a federal lawsuit against the City of New York and others on behalf of Stanley “Skip” Karol, a lifelong Brooklyn resident, who uses the Airbnb platform to rent out part of his family home. The suit alleges that, in violation of the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause, the City retaliated against Mr. Karol for his remarks criticizing City officials and policy at a public hearing before the New York City Council on June 26, 2018. Concerned that the legislation pending before the Council would put him in the same category as operators of illegal hotels, Mr. Karol exercised his First Amendment rights by participating in a public hearing on the bill. Days later, City enforcement officials appeared at Mr. Karol’s two-family home in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and issued him four summonses carrying fines of tens of thousands of dollars. The complaint alleges that the enforcement effort aimed at Mr. Karol was retaliatory, and the summonses issued to Mr. Karol are baseless. “People shouldn’t have to worry that when they go home, there’s going to be a knock on the door just because they decided to speak up against the government,” ECBAWM partner Andrew G. Celli, Jr. told the press. The case was covered in Gothamist, the New York Post, New York Daily News, Patch.com, and Newsday and is the subject of a New York Post editorial.
Mr. Karol is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Jr., Debra Greenberger, and Ashok Chandran.