Monday, June 11, 2007

Floyd Abrams



He is one of the most active lawyers in support of Free Speech. From the Pentagon Papers, to Clinton and Monica, to talking about Scooter Libby and Valerie Plame, Abrams has been involved. I listened to his speech on the 6th floor of the Middletown, Connecticut, Courthouse. He answered my questions and his observations of where we are going as a nation seem to be right on. He knows where we have been. He knows where we are going.
[Wikipedia on Abrams]

My email: stevengerickson@yahoo.com

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Added 8:15 AM EST:

CONNECTICUT NEWS

1st Amendment Lawyer Abrams Sees Loss Of Press Freedoms

June 12, 2007
By THOMAS KAPLAN, Courant Staff Writer

MIDDLETOWN -- Floyd Abrams may have been able to prevent the government from censoring The New York Times, but he couldn't keep it from throwing Judith Miller in jail.

Decades ago, the legendary First Amendment lawyer found himself winning most of his cases, like the famous Pentagon Papers case. But in recent years, as the times and the law have changed, he has been more often on the losing side, he said - and journalists have paid the price.

Abrams, 70, addressed more than two dozen judges, lawyers and journalists at Middlesex Superior Court on Monday afternoon, calling for a "special vigilance" in protecting the freedom of the press.

It was exercising a traditional press freedom - keeping sources confidential - that landed New York Times reporter Judith Miller in jail for 12 weeks in 2005, with Abrams pleading publicly for a federal shield law to prevent journalists from having to give up such sources.

Abrams represented both Miller and former Time Magazine reporter Matthew Cooper in their bids to avoid having to tell a grand jury the names of the confidential sources who told them the identity of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame.

"From a First Amendment perspective, the case is a disaster," Abrams said Monday. "The image of one journalist after another traipsing onto the witness stand and testifying against their sources, whether or not they had permission, is a very disturbing one."

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia had ruled that journalists could be compelled to reveal their confidential sources in a federal grand jury investigation. Miller, refusing to betray the promise of confidentiality to her source, defied a court order to testify and was held in contempt and sent to prison.

But the journalistic principle at stake, and the sacrifice Miller made to protect it, made the case at least partly a victory, if not a legal one, Abrams said. "It was worth having fought that fight," he said.

The investigation eventually resulted in the conviction of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, for perjury and obstruction of justice.

The Miller case capped a long list of cases of national prominence in which Abrams was a key player. He served as co-counsel for The New York Times in the landmark 1971 Pentagon Papers case, in which the newspaper successfully resisted a government injunction against printing leaked classified material on the Vietnam War. He has represented ABC, NBC, CBS and scores of other media outlets over the decades.

A graduate of Yale Law School, he still works in private practice and teaches at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Abrams, dressed in a black suit, light-blue shirt and red-checked tie, addressed the state Judicial-Media Committee, a group of judges, attorneys and journalists formed in December in an effort to improve the relationship between the judicial branch and the state's print and electronic media.

Asked whether he thought the defeat in the Plame case might cause journalists to be hauled into court to reveal their sources more frequently, Abrams said time will tell.

"I just don't know. We really don't know yet," he said. "The one good thing [resulting from the case] ... is that I think there's a pretty good chance of federal legislation being adopted ... the chances are really looking up."

In recent years, Congress has considered a shield law, introduced by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., but the bill has stalled in past years. Connecticut, meanwhile, adopted its own shield law last year and is now among more than 30 states with such measures.

Abrams said a federal shield law probably won't come until another journalist, faced with a subpoena, decides to "fight it to the end," presumably in a jail cell. He predicted that's likely to happen soon.



Contact Thomas Kaplan at tkaplan@courant.com.

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[click here] for comment on Topix, a Hartford Courant forum for the above piece

My comment in that forum:
Abrams spoke on the 6th floor of the Middletown Superior court.

I had to go through security to attend the media relations event and to hear abrams speak. I could not bring in my cell phone, video camera, and other equipment.

Abrams is a true advocate for Free Speech.

The "media event" bothered me in a certain sense as they were probably absolutely closed to the public.

When editors from the court, from AP, and other major papers hobnob and socialize can they hit with the hard stories? Are only sacrificial lambs served up?

I heard Abrams describe in his own words that if the precedent where the government can gag a story from coming out, contacting news outlets telling them what they can't release, Free Speech and Freedom could have ended in 1972.

Abrams said the judicial system has made great strides and mentioned that the current climate is of concern.

I enjoyed shaking his hand and having him answer my questions.
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