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web posted October 8, 2001

Connecticut State Supreme Court won't reinstate gun lawsuit

The state Supreme Court dismissed the city's lawsuit against gun makers October 1, saying the city had no legal standing to sue. Friends of a man shot to death last week had a different view.

Joining courts around the country, the state's high court said Bridgeport had not suffered such direct losses from gun violence that it was legally able to pursue its case.

Mayor Joseph P. Ganim, who is weighing whether to appeal the decision, said he hoped one of the lawsuits around the country will be allowed to proceed and set a precedent for other jurisdictions.

"I still have strong feelings as for the rationale behind that lawsuit and others around the country," he said.

Bridgeport officials, like leaders in some 30 communities nationwide, had claimed financial losses as a result of violence involving firearms. Bridgeport, Connecticut's largest and poorest city, pegged its costs at $100 million, including police overtime and medical costs.

The lawsuit alleged that the gun makers violated product liability laws, the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act and public nuisance laws. It also contended that gun makers have not done enough to make firearms safe and failed to prevent their products from getting into the hands of criminals.

The suit was rejected in December 1999 by Superior Court Judge Robert F. McWeeny. The judge sided with gun makers, who argued that the city could not sue because it had not suffered any direct injuries.

Bridgeport asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the case. But the high court said none of the city's arguments withstood judicial scrutiny.

The city's arguments under the state's public nuisance laws were the most persuasive, the justices said. The definition of public nuisance might encompass gun makers, because Bridgeport citizens could be harmed by the manufacturers' actions.

But even under that doctrine, the losses to the city are too remote to give Bridgeport standing to file suit, the court said.

Bridgeport was one of 29 cities and counties suing more than two dozen gun makers. The suits have had mixed results, with a judge dismissing Cincinnati's suit but another judge allowed Atlanta's case to proceed. A case filed by Chicago was also thrown out last year.

Bridgeport's suit named as defendants Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger and Co. Inc., among others.

Sturm, Ruger and Co., based in Fairfield, said nine other similar lawsuits brought by cities against gun makers have been dismissed during the past two years.

"We respectfully submit, once again, that our cities should not spend one more minute or one more dime wrongly attacking those companies which have proudly armed our police, military and law abiding citizens in times of peril," Stephen L. Sanetti, the company's senior executive vice president, said in a statement.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who supported Bridgeport in the case, called the decision a "narrow ruling on a technical procedural issue." He said cities could still sue on behalf of residents who have suffered from gun violence.

Bridgeport, once called the murder capital of Connecticut, has experienced a steady decline in homicides in recent years. Last year the city recorded 20 homicides, the lowest number in two decades and less than one-third of the peak year of 1992, when there was 63.

Alexandra Medina, whose family owns a grocery store down the road from Kiss's house, said she failed to see the connection between gun makers and the violence.

"I think it goes deeper than that," Medina said.

Medina said the gun violence is rooted in poverty, a lack of jobs as factories closed and poor education that has plagued inner city neighborhoods such as the one where her store is located. She said she has seen many young men killed over the years.

"It's all over drugs it's their way of making money," Medina said. "It's a sad situation."

Clinton disbarred from Supreme Court

The Supreme Court ordered former President Clinton disbarred from practicing law before the high court on October 1 and gave him 40 days to contest the order.

The court did not explain its reasons, but Supreme Court disbarment often follows disbarment in lower courts.

In April, Clinton's Arkansas law license was suspended for five years and he paid a $25,000 fine. The original disbarment lawsuit was brought by a committee of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

There are no fines associated with the Supreme Court action. Most lawyers who are admitted to the Supreme Court bar never actually argue a case there, but the right to do so is considered an honor.

Clinton agreed to the Arkansas fine and suspension Jan. 19, the day before he left office, as part of an understanding with Independent Counsel Robert Ray to end the Monica Lewinsky investigation.

The agreement also satisfied the legal effort by the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct to disbar Clinton for giving misleading testimony in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case.

Clinton has said he will fight the Supreme Court's decision.

Florida's Harris to run for Congress

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a central figure in the ballot recount battle during the 2000 presidential election, said October 2 she is running for Congress.

Harris, a Republican from Sarasota, is vying for the southwest Florida seat held by U.S. Rep. Dan Miller, a Republican retiring after serving five terms.

In her campaign announcement, Harris said she was running in part because of the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

"In light of the recent tragedy, I am more committed than ever to serving this president, and our nation," she said. "As a nation we have united to overcome this challenge, and the bonds of our courage and strength to do what is right inspires us to succeed."

Harris is running in Florida's 13th congressional district, a strongly Republican and fast-growing area popular among retirees from the Midwest.

Her only announced opponent so far in the Republican primary is Chester Flake, a 27-year-old computer consultant making his first bid for public office.

Harris' role during the 2000 election recount battle between President Bush and former Vice President Al Gore earned her praise from many Republicans and scorn from many Democrats.

As co-chair of Bush's Florida campaign and the state's top election official, she played a key role in interpreting the ballot recount rules and was vilified by Democrats when she quickly declared Bush the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes.

The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately halted recounts that Gore believed would have produced enough votes to give him the White House. Bush, whose brother Jeb Bush is the governor of Florida, won the state by 537 votes.

A former real estate agent and granddaughter of the late Florida citrus baron Ben Hill Griffin, Harris was first elected to the state Senate in 1994 and defeated a Republican incumbent in 1998 to become secretary of state.

Before the presidential election controversy, she was best known for overseeing cultural affairs and promoting Florida on international trade missions.

Her travel expenses raised eyebrows, and her office was criticized in a state audit that said last week her staff sometimes flew first-class or business class, violating state travel regulations.

Harris cannot run for re-election. The same year she was elected, voters opted to phase out the Department of State and fold its duties into the governor's office effective in 2002.

NATO: U.S. evidence on bin Laden 'compelling'

The United States gave NATO "clear and compelling" evidence on October 2 that Osama bin Laden orchestrated last month's suicide airliner attacks in New York and Washington, gaining the unqualified support of its allies for retaliatory military strikes.

NATO Secretary General George Robertson said the alliance's 19 members are now convinced that the attacks were planned abroad by bin Laden's al Qaeda organization. As a result, NATO lifted all conditions from its unprecedented decision to invoke Article 5 of the alliance's founding treaty, which considers an assault against one member as an attack against them all.

"It is clear that all roads lead to al Qaeda and pinpoint Osama bin Laden as having been involved" in the attacks, Robertson said after the ruling council of NATO ambassadors received a classified briefing by Francis X. Taylor, the U.S. government's top counterterrorism expert.

"The facts are clear and compelling," Robertson said.

In Afghanistan, leaders of the ruling Taliban militia, which has been harboring bin Laden, urged the United States to share its evidence with them, saying they hoped for a negotiated settlement instead of a military conflict. The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said his government would be willing to talk to the United States about bin Laden, but "we don't want to surrender without any proof, any evidence."

European diplomats who listened to Taylor's briefing here at NATO headquarters said his presentation offered no "smoking gun" but provided an array of evidence that would be enough to indict bin Laden, his al Qaeda network and the Taliban on complicity to commit terrorism.

Besides satellite reconnaissance photos and wireless intercepts gleaned by U.S. security agencies that were described as "circumstantial at best," these diplomats said much of the classified evidence was already in the public domain, such as bin Laden's personal background, his organization's role in such previous terrorist bombings as the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the status of the current investigation. These elements, the sources said, included a catalogue of financial transactions involving intercontinental bank transfers and credit card dealings by suspected hijackers, as well as accounts of such personal ties as the recent marriage of one of bin Laden's daughters to Mohammad Omar, the Taliban's leader.

Robertson said the United States could count on the full support of its allies in the conduct of military operations. But he stressed that it was still unclear what assistance the United States might ask its allies to provide beyond the sharing of intelligence and more vigilant pursuit of money laundering by suspected terrorist networks.

"It will be up to the United States to determine what help it requires," Robertson said. "We don't intend at the moment to discuss how NATO will translate this decision into operational action. The United States is still developing its thinking and they will come back to the alliance in due course when that thinking is crystalized."

Reno can be sued for raid

A federal judge has cleared the way for dozens of Elián González supporters in Miami to sue former attorney general Janet Reno for injuries they say they received during the raid to seize the boy from his relatives' Little Havana home.

U.S. District Court Judge K. Michael Moore -- who once ruled in Reno's favor when he said the government acted properly in denying Elián's asylum request -- said October 2 that Reno's position in President Clinton's administration did not give her "qualified immunity" from being personally sued for injuries sustained in the pre-dawn federal strike on April 22, 2000.

Reno, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for Florida governor, admittedly ordered the raid and has repeatedly defended the decision as the right choice.

"A reasonable officer in Reno's position would know that the law forbade her from directing the execution of a warrant in a manner that called for unjustified force against bystanders," the judge ruled.

Two other top Clinton administrators -- former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder and former Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner -- did not order the raid, Moore said when he dismissed the suit against them.

Judicial Watch filed the lawsuit against the three officials on behalf of 52 protesters and bystanders who claim that their civil rights were violated when they pushed the civilians aside, gassed them, beat them and threatened to arrest them. They sued for at least $100 million and alleged that they were intentionally targeted simply because they opposed efforts to return Elián, then 6, to his father in Cuba.

But Moore ruled that five of the 52 plaintiffs had no legal ground to sue because they had left the house as soon as agents arrived and were not injured.

The remaining 47 -- including Donato Dalrymple, a Broward laborer who found the boy along with his cousin and was holding the boy when armed federal forces burst into the house to get him -- can sue Reno, he ruled.

"They are just everyday Cuban Americans who were out there praying, holding candlelight vigils and who did nothing wrong and yet were gassed, beaten and had guns thrown in their faces or pointed at them," said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative public interest law firm.

"We believed the law was on our side and the judge almost agreed with us completely. It's a significant victory for the Cuban-American community that's been abused by the justice system mostly through Janet Reno," Fitton said. "They do have good faith that in this country the good win out in the end, and now they will have their day in court.

"This is something they've been praying for for some time."

Fitton said the Cuban-American community as a whole was victimized by Reno's actions when she ordered the boy be seized by force: "She knew their constitutional rights would be violated and she didn't care."

He said his firm would consider appealing the case for the five plaintiffs who were dropped from the suit. He also has 20 days to file an amended complaint with more information to have Moore reconsider adding Holder and Meissner as defendants.

"He said there aren't enough facts to make Holder and Meissner accountable. That's something that hopefully we'll be able to rectify for the judge."

Moore also dismissed a portion of the ruling alleging excessive force was used by saying the raid was "neither particularly violent, nor was the number of law enforcement officers disproportionate to the objective needed to maintain order."

Charles Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department, which has been representing Reno in the lawsuit, did not have an immediate comment.

Reno did not return repeated phone calls to her Kendall home and her office. She had been out of Florida earlier that day, speaking at the University of Idaho, where she said that civil liberties should not become another victim of terrorism.

"It is important that we work hard to achieve security without sacrificing our freedoms, that we achieve justice without sacrificing our freedoms," Reno said.

She would not comment specifically about the investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but said, "If we pursue this in as careful a fashion as possible, I think we can do it without diminishing due-process rights."

Reno told about 1,000 attorneys, law students and faculty that attorneys spend too much time arguing the law and too little solving problems.

A date for the trial in her case has not been set.

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