Politics & Policy

The OWS Legal Team

The radical lawyers who sought to bring occupiers back to Zuccotti Park

Yesterday, lawyers for the Occupy Wall Street movement successfully filed for a temporary restraining order with a New York court. On paper, at least — the Bloomberg administration did not comply — Justice Lucy Billings’s ruling allowed the protesters to return to Zuccotti Park between yesterday morning’s eviction and yesterday afternoon’s full hearing. She temporarily barred the city and the private owners of the park from preventing the occupation or keeping the occupiers from setting up tents.

Justice Billings is perhaps the ideal enabler for the occupiers. Her liberal credentials are sterling: She graduated from the University of California–Berkeley’s law school in 1973, was admitted to the Vermont bar in 1974, and went on to spend 25 years working for the American Civil Liberties Union, where she worked, according to her official biography online, “to enforce new rights for minority, disabled, and low-income persons” and “forged new legal remedies by litigating issues not previously addressed in housing, environmental justice . . . public health, child welfare, education, and employment.” And her role may not have been coincidental; the Daily News reports: “Asked why they called her first, protest lawyer Daniel Alterman wouldn’t say, remarking that he’s not a ‘gossip guy.’”

Speaking of the protest’s lawyers, most of them are affiliated with the National Lawyers Guild, a group of explicitly progressive lawyers whose mission calls for the “reconstruction of legal values to emphasize human rights over property rights.” That philosophy runs throughout much of their work, which has consistently championed the preferences of “marginalized” groups over the rule of law. Here is a guide to Occupy Wall Street’s legal counsel.

Michael Ratner and Margaret Ratner Kunstler, formerly spouses, are the authors of Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in the Twenty-First Century. One of their favorite forms of dissent, it seems, has been a significant amount of anti-Israel advocacy, including the charge of Israeli “apartheid.” Ratner has accused Israel of “massive violations of Palestinian rights” and “inhuman [sic] treatment of Palestinians.” He has written that Americans have not widely condemned Israel because of “ambivalence about condemning the actions of a people that have experienced pervasive antisemitism and the holocaust.” Alan Levine, another OWS lawyer, has also publicly expressed anti-Israeli arguments. In light of the confirmed presence of anti-Semitic sentiments at OWS and other occupations, the choice of several prominent critics of Israel as counsel is somewhat disturbing — Jewish people appear to be one minority group that neither the occupiers nor human-rights lawyers have much interest in protecting.

Another OWS lawyer, Michael J. Boyle, has an even more worrisome history of advocacy: He has represented no fewer than four men with connections to terrorism, basing his arguments on legal technicalities. Most appallingly, he represented Pakistani terrorist Shahawar Matin Siraj in an appeal of his conviction for plotting to bomb Manhattan’s Herald Square subway station. There was no dispute over Siraj’s guilt; Boyle appealed the decision on the grounds that Siraj had a right to access police records of his own oral statements — an argument that was legally unjustified and rejected.

In 2008, he secured the overturning of a conviction of two Yemeni men, cleric Ali Hassan al-Moayad and his assistant, Mohsen Yahya Zayed, for conspiracy to support al-Qaeda and Hamas. Their conviction was overturned because a witness’s description of a Hamas bombing in Tel Aviv was ruled “inflammatory testimony.” He also defended Osama Awadallah, an associate of two 9/11 hijackers, on perjury charges — Awadallah claimed he didn’t know one of the hijackers, Khalid al-Midhar, despite material evidence that he did. Boyle secured Awadallah’s release, via a dramatic jury reversal, by arguing that Awadallah had unintentionally denied knowing al-Midhar to the FBI.

Boyle has also defended a number of members of the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army. He attempted to win parole for Jalil Abdul Muntaqim, a so-called “political prisoner” who was convicted of murdering two New York City police officers.

Daniel Alterman and the late William Kunstler — a radical lawyer who married Margaret Ratner Kunstler after she divorced Michael Ratner — were involved in the defense of several rioters from the 1971 Attica prison riots in New York. Alterman includes his work for the convicts involved in the riot as “among his proudest achievements.” At Attica, there was a brutal riot that involved prisoners’ taking ten guards hostage, and the New York State Police became overly violent in response, but Alterman sees a problem with only one side: In his view, his work was “a story about justice” and “the legitimate complaints of the inmates.”

Michael Ratner also attempted and failed to secure a writ of habeas corpus on appeal for Pedro Gutierrez, a Bronx man convicted of “assorted crimes arising from a fatal shooting incident among rival drug dealers,” on the grounds that a piece of evidence had not been available to his defense. The appeal was necessary because a lower court had already refused the writ — the type of evidentiary mistake that had been made was, according to other precedent, “harmless in view of the overwhelming evidence of defendant’s guilt.” Despite overwhelming evidence of his guilt, Ratner was still insistent that Gutierrez had been unfairly treated by the criminal-justice system.

More amusingly, in 2009, attorney Yett Kurland worked to ban tour buses from her neighborhood in the West Village, arguing that their “noise pollution” was greatly compromising the residents’ quality of life, and promising an investigation into “all the environmental hazards that these tour buses may pose.” Surely if buses using public streets for their intended purpose must defer to the community’s quality-of-life concerns, protesters have no right to occupy a private park and damage the neighborhood’s environment without being held to the same standards.

It is not surprising that Occupy Wall Street has chosen a slate of far-left lawyers to defend it against the demands of the city and the park’s owners. The legal team fancies itself a defender of the oppressed and marginalized; the occupiers now claim that label for the “99 percent.”

— Patrick Brennan is a 2011 William F. Buckley fellow.

Patrick BrennanPatrick Brennan is a writer and policy analyst based in Washington, D.C. He was Director of Digital Content for Marco Rubio's presidential campaign, writing op-eds, policy content, and leading the ...

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