TerrorismNew York is home of the terror bar

Published 4 December 2012

Islamic terrorists from around the world are being extradited to the Federal District Court in Manhattan or Brooklyn to face prosecution, which is a boon for the qualified lawyers who defend them; the skills these lawyers display often go beyond what can be taught in law school

Islamic terrorists from around the world are being extradited to the Federal District Court in Manhattan or Brooklyn to face prosecution, which is a boon for the qualified lawyers who defend them. The skills these lawyers display often go  beyond what can be taught in law school.

To succeed,  these lawyers must become skilled at navigating laws involving classified information and foreign intelligence searches. They usually have to travel overseas in order to talk to witnesses and family members of their clients.

“Not only do you have the substantive law and the procedural law, but you have the whole cultural orientation,” Anthony Ricco, who has represented a series of terrorism defendants over the past two decades, told the New York Times.

Lawyers like Ricco are typically appointed by judges from a group of seasoned lawyers with experience in criminal defense.

The Times reports that Andrew Patel has represented El-Sayyid Nosair and Jose Padilla in the past.. Now Patel has been assigned to defend Adel Abdul Bary, who has been charged for conspiracy in al Qaeda bombing two American Embassies in East Africa in 1998, which killed more than 200 people.

“By any metric you use, New York is home of the terror bar,” Ronald Kuby, the lawyer for a Queens imam who became ensnared in the investigation of a subway bomb plot told the Times.

With the frequency of these cases expected to rise, the federal court has finalized a terrorism panel of three dozen lawyers that were specially recruited to handle these situations.

Some lawyers have declined to be a part of such cases, but the ones that accepted the challenge feel these situations provide a new experience from the drug and gun possession cases that litter their desks. 

“Any criminal defense lawyer who enjoys the profession, who enjoys the calling, will gravitate toward these kinds of cases simply because they are the most challenging,” David A. Ruhnke, an expert on the death penalty who has represented several terrorism defendants, told the Times.

Zoë Dolan, who is currently defending on appeal a man who was convicted of a bomb plot at Kennedy Airport last year, spent two years living in the Middle East and her proficiency in Arabic is a valued asset. According to Dolan, the ability to speak Arabic is paramount when it comes to building an attorney-client relationship.

Due to the complexity of these cases and the small number of lawyers that are willing to accept them, they often rely on each other for advice and support.

Peter Quijano told the Times that he consulted with Ricco as well as Edward Wilford and Joshua Dratel when he was assigned to represent Ahmed Khalfan Ghaliani in 2009. Ricco, Wilford. and Dratel were all involved in the embassy bombings case in which Ghaliani was also charged.

Dratel was recently appointed to join Schneider in defending Mostafa Kamel Mostafa, who is standing trial for the 1993 World Trade Center attack.

The panel of thirty-six lawyers was put together by Brooklyn’s federal court in addition to a separate group of forty-six lawyers for capital cases, according to Magistrate Judge Cheryl Pollack who recruited the lawyers herself.

There  was an overlap between the two groups, but twelve lawyers whot were willing to take death penalty cases declined to be on the terrorism panel. Pollack was surprised at how many lawyers were eager to join both panels and told the Times she was “surprised at the number of people who had already had that kind of experience, which obviously was what we were looking for.”

Justine Harris and Deborah Colson, two former Brooklyn federal defenders who opened their own practice, said they made a decision early on to pick up terrorism cases along with their usual work. In 2010, they were appointed to represent Mohammed Wali Zazi, who was charged with obstructing justice in the investigation of a subway bomb plot.

When Pollack recently called Colson and Harris to ask them to join the terrorism panel, they did not hesitate to say yes. According to Harris a defense lawyer’s goal is always to hold the government accountable. “But it feels like in these cases,” Harris told the Times, “the stakes are the greatest, not only for the individual but for the system as a whole.”