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Law Student Who Wrote to Federal Judge Sues Over Subsequent ‘Unreasonable’ Search of Her Cellphone

Posted Jul 24, 2012 11:14 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Last month, law student Benula Bensam learned an unexpected lesson by attending sessions of a high-profile federal insider-trading trial in New York.

Now she is hoping to teach one to Manhattan's top federal prosecutor and the U.S. Marshals Service, among other defendants. In a federal lawsuit filed on July 10 that was made public yesterday, the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law 3L says marshals apparently directed court security officers on June 4 to hold her cellphone overnight and, in all likelihood, turn it on and search it, before it was returned to her the next day, reports Reuters.

As detailed in an earlier ABAJournal.com post, Bensam didn't have a job for the summer. So the Yeshiva University law student decided to attend the insider-trading trial of Rajat K. Gupta.

Bensam also wrote several letters to U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff, who was presiding over the trial, about the Southern District of New York case. This caused concern that Bensam might seemingly be trying to influence the outcome of the case, and Rakoff called her into chambers for a meeting with counsel for both sides, to ask that she not send him any more letters.

An Above the Law post links to Bensam's pro se complaint, in which she claims that her cellphone was unconstitutionally seized and searched after she checked it with court security personnel during the Gupta trial, as visitors to the Southern District routinely do.

She is not seeking damages, but wants a policy change concerning what she describes as an "unreasonable" search and seizure of her checked cellphone. Her Southern District of New York complaint also seeks attorney's fees.

"It is not a crime for a disinterested party to write letters to a judge on the subject of a trial," says Bensam in the suit.

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