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DEFEND THE RNC 420

Over 400 people were arrested while protesting at the 2000 Republican National Convention (RNC) in Philadelphia, PA. This website provides information on their legal situation and the issues they are protesting.

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Shhh... City trying to settle protester suits; But why secrecy on cases related to convention?

07/05/02 - by Jim Smith - Philadelphia Daily News

The city is secretly trying to settle federal civil-rights lawsuits filed on behalf of protesters who were jailed during the Republican National Convention nearly two years ago.

The Police Department was widely praised for controlling demonstrations during the convention. Many demonstrators, however, believe that the rights of some protesters were violated by police actions to curtail protests. The city maintains there was no wrongdoing by police officers or prosecutors. It's unclear why the city appears determined to keep the settlements secret. An $800,000 liability-insurance policy specifically covers civil-rights claims against the city and state.

Some civil-rights lawyers predicted last year that the lawsuits that flowed from the convention could cost the city and its insurer millions. But that doesn't appear to be the case.

The money involved in the secret settlements is relatively small.

Lawyers won't comment.

Court records show that one proposed settlement involves the payment of a total of $72,000 to 24 people who were among a group of 79 people arrested at the so-called "puppet warehouse," at 41st Street and Haverford Avenue in West Philadelphia. None of the settlement money will go into their pockets.

Under the terms of the settlement, the individual plaintiffs, who claimed they had been falsely arrested to prevent them from exercising their free-speech rights, have agreed to donate whatever is left in the settlement fund, after attorneys' fees and costs are deducted, to nonprofit groups.

One beneficiary is to be the Spiral Q Puppet Theater, a nonprofit arts organization that works with community groups to benefit the poor.

Spiral Q's founder, activist Matthew Hart, one of the plaintiffs suing the city, could not be reached for comment on the deal.

A smaller share will go to a prison-aid group, possibly Books Through Bars, which works with city inmates, according to statements made at a settlement conference last month before U.S. Magistrate Judge M. Faith Angell.

The money to fund the settlement will be paid by an insurance carrier and not by the taxpayers.

City lawyers wanted the settlement to be kept secret.

"We'll need a strict confidentiality agreement on this case and you've got to get your clients to... stay quiet about it," attorney David J. Wolfsohn, a private lawyer retained by the city, told the plaintiffs' attorneys at the conference in June.

Secrecy was blown, however, when a Daily News reporter stumbled upon a transcript of the hearing that had been filed, apparently inadvertently, as part of the public court record.

When the reporter showed up uninvited on Tuesday at what the judge had described as a "hearing on the proposed settlement agreement," Wolfsohn furiously complained that someone had called the press and the judge never came into court.

Instead, Angell met with attorneys behind closed doors, in her judicial chambers, rather than in a public courtroom.

Afterward, Wolfsohn and other lawyers involved in the case declined to comment.

Jim Smith's e-mail address is [email protected].

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R2K Mobilization Links:
Ad Hoc Committee to Defend Health Care
phillyhealth.org
August 1st Direct Action Coalition
Kensington Welfare Rights Union
kwru.org
NJ Unity2000
Philly Direct Action Group
Redirect2000
Refuse & Resist
refuseandresist.org
Silent March
silentmarch.org
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