September 21, 2010
Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it has forced disclosure of the existence of documents from the Department of Justice (DOJ) indicating Democratic election lawyer Sam Hirsch was involved in the DOJ decision to dismiss its voting rights case against the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense. The records, described in a Vaughn index produced pursuant to a Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, contradict sworn testimony by Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, who testified before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission that no political leadership was involved in the decision (Judicial Watch v. Department of Justice (No. 10-851)).
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The “Vaughn index” describes documents responsive to the lawsuit currently being withheld in their entirety by the Justice Department. The index details a series of emails between Assistant Deputy Attorney General Steve Rosenbaum and Deputy Associate Attorney General Sam Hirsch, who was described by Slate magazine as a “DC election lawyer who represents a lot of Democrats” prior to joining the Justice Department.
The index describes eight email exchanges between Rosenbaum and Hirsch, taking place on April 30, 2009, the day before the Justice Department reversed course and declined to pursue much of the Black Panther case. Listed among the email correspondence:
An “Email Chain with Attachments” from Rosenbaum to Hirsch dated April 30, 2009: The email chain includes “…a detailed response and analysis of the proposed draft filings in NBPP (New Black Panther Party) litigation…The response includes a candid assessment of legal research and raises questions about the case law and proposed relief….This document also contains attorney discussion, opinions, and analyses of the draft documents and case law.”
The records disclosed to Judicial Watch seemingly contradict testimony by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on May 14, 2010. The Commission, an independent, bipartisan unit of the federal government charged with investigating and reporting on civil rights issues, initiated a probe of the Justice Department’s decision to drop its lawsuit. During the hearing, Perez was asked directly regarding the involvement of political leaders in the decision to dismiss the Black Panther case.
COMMISSIONER KIRSANOW: Was there any political leadership involved in the decision not to pursue this particular case any further than it was?
ASST. ATTY. GEN. PEREZ: No. The decisions were made by Loretta King in consultation with Steve Rosenbaum, who is the Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General.
Perez also suggested that the dispute was merely “a case of career people disagreeing with career people.”
The Justice Department originally filed its lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party following an incident that took place outside of a Philadelphia polling station on November 4, 2008. A video of the incident, showing a member of the New Black Panther Party brandishing police-style baton weapon, was widely distributed on the Internet. According to multiple witnesses, members of the New Black Panthers blocked access to polling stations, harassed voters and hurled racial epithets. Nonetheless, the Justice Department ultimately overruled the recommendations of its own staff and dismissed the majority of its charges.
“These documents show the Obama Justice Department’s decision to drop the Black Panther case was certainly political and potentially corrupt,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The Black Panther decision is a scandal for the Obama administration and it merits serious attention by investigators. Assistant Attorney General Perez seems to have been less than candid in his sworn testimony when he said no political appointees were involved in the decision. This scandal has just gotten a whole lot worse for the Obama Justice Department.”