Privacy Law

9th Circuit Overturns Ruling Awarding Fees in Wiretap Case by Islamic Charity

A federal appeals court has overturned an award of $2.5 million in attorney fees and nearly $41,000 in damages to two lawyers for an Islamic charity who alleged their conversations were illegally wiretapped by the government.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the government was protected by immunity, report the Recorder, the Associated Press and CNN. “This case effectively brings to an end the plaintiffs’ ongoing attempts to hold the executive branch responsible for intercepting telephone conversations without judicial authorization,” the appeals court said in its opinion (PDF).

The lawyers had learned of possible wiretaps when the government mistakenly turned over a classified document during a probe into currency reporting and tax law violations by the charity. The lawyers weren’t allowed to use the document in the suit, so they relied partly on a speech by an FBI official at an ABA seminar.

The Recorder sums up the case this way: “After seven years of litigation spanning two appeals, an inadvertently disclosed top-secret document and a shredded banana peel, a case accusing the federal government of illegal wiretapping appears finally to be dead.” Charity lawyer Jon Eisenberg sometimes was required to write his briefs government offices, and in one instance, security guards shredded the peel of a banana he ate while there, the story explains.

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