The Anti-Defamation League has reached a settlement in a federal civil lawsuit that was initiated by a dozen ethnic organizations and that charged that the veteran Jewish defense agency had illegally spied on them and their members.
The settlement, expected to be approved by a federal judge in Los Angeles, appears to put to rest a series of charges and legal entanglements that have kept ADL officials on edge for the better part of 3 1/2 years.
The class action suit was filed almost three years ago by Arab American, black and American Indian groups and individuals. They alleged that the ADL had hired intelligence agents with close police ties as part of a private national intelligence operation that kept tabs on thousands of Americans.
During the course of the suit, and an earlier probe by the San Francisco district attorney, the ADL consistently denied any improper or illegal actions, a position reiterated in the settlement.
The ADL did agree, however, to pay $175,000 toward the plaintiffs’ legal fees and to establish a $25,000 community relations fund for programs to “facilitate improved relations between and among Arab American, Jewish, African American and other minority communities in the United States.”
ADL National Chairman David Strassler and National Director Abraham Foxman notified their leadership in a letter that they had agreed to the following points in the settlement:
A court injunction prohibiting the ADL from obtaining any information from a government employee in California, when the ADL knows, or should know, that the employee is precluded by law from giving such information to the ADL.
The ADL and the plaintiffs will review and remove certain “confidential” files in its California and New York offices. Peter Schey of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, representing the plaintiffs, said a mutually agreed upon referee would oversee the process.
Strassler and Foxman noted in their letter that “the settlement is an appropriate way to put an end to what has been a particularly draining litigation.”
“We are extremely pleased that a fund will be set up to help foster better relations among those involved in the affair,” they said. “This will allow us to do more of the kind of work we already do among members of different groups and will assist us in our fight against hatred, prejudice and bigotry.”
Jerry Shapiro, ADL regional director in Los Angeles, expressed relief that the time and energy-consuming legal actions had been concluded and that he and his colleagues could concentrate fully on their “fact-finding and research in any lawful and constitutionally protected manner.”
Barbara Bergen, regional ADL director in San Francisco, said that “the lawsuits gave us an opportunity to review our whole fact- finding methodology.”
“To the extent that it required fine-tuning, we did that, but there has been no dramatic change,” she added.
A spokeswoman in New York said there would be no additional comment from the national ADL office.
Schey expressed his satisfaction with the settlement and said he hoped that his client organizations and the ADL would join in the future to fight skinheads and hate groups.
The settlement “is fair and addresses the important First Amendment issues of freedom of association and freedom of expression that were in the complaint,” Schey said.
Don Bustany, spokesman for the Arab-American Anti- Discrimination Committee, the lead party in the suit, said that despite the settlement, the “ADL engaged in illegal spying and hasn’t really atoned for it.”
Events leading up to the civil suit began in April 1993, when police raided the ADL offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles, seizing hundreds of documents.
San Francisco District Attorney Arlo Smith had accused the ADL of conducting a national “spy network,” but dropped all charges a few months later.
At the time, the ADL agreed to establish funds of up to $75,000 to fight hate crimes and train the staff of Smith’s office in ways to educate public school students about the evils of bigotry.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.