Drug abuse, shame and the Holocaust figure in film about family of notorious Dutch lawyers


In a country where 75 percent of Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, the Moszkowicz family of lawyers stood out as a unique Jewish success story.

Descended from Max Moszkowicz, a steel-willed Auschwitz survivor who became Holland’s first modern celebrity attorney, his four lawyer sons took the family business to new heights, turning their name into a household brand here with winning arguments in some of the country’s most famous trials.

Max Moszkowicz himself in 1987 obtained a mere four-year sentence for the kidnappers of the beverage mogul Freddy Heineken. His second son, Robert, in 1976 became Holland’s youngest person to pass the bar exam at 23 (he was a millionaire by 29). Another son, Bram, kept making international headlines – including through the 2010 acquittal of the anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders of hate speech charges.

 

The Moszkowiczes were widely recognized as legal geniuses in the media and at events held in their honor.

But over the past decade, they have fallen from grace. Three of Max Moszkowicz’s sons were disbarred for improprieties, starting in 2005 with Robert — a former heroin addict and flamboyant womanizer who was accused of cheating his clients — and ending in March with the oldest brother, David.

This month, the Moszkowiczes are again making headlines in Holland because of “We Moszkowicz,” the first revealing documentary film about the remarkable family. Made by the first-born son of Robert Moszkowicz, the television production retraces the Holocaust’s deep effects on three generations that for many represent Dutch Jewry’s struggle to return to normalcy after the trauma of the genocide.

Combining footage from Amsterdam, Jerusalem and Auschwitz, the critically acclaimed work by Max Moszkowicz — a 37-year-old filmmaker who is named for his 89-year-old grandfather — offers an unprecedented insight into the rise and fall of a now notorious family.

The filmmaker describes to his father his own panic as a child at seeing Robert – then still a celebrated and practicing lawyer — collapse into a drug-induced stupor at his mansion near Maastricht. Heroin was in plain sight at the father’s Amsterdam apartment, the filmmaker recalls. Robert told him as a child that the beige powder and tin foil were for making special flu medicine.

Standing opposite his father, Max Moszkowicz confronts him over his shame at elementary school following Robert’s publicized arrest. Over the space of six years, the filmmaker followed his father around, assembling the portrait of a vain, sometimes selfish and ultimately unrepentant man who never apologized for actions that apparently have scarred several of his nine children, whom he had with four women.

But “We Moszkowicz” is no damning indictment, filmmaker Max Moszkowicz told JTA in an interview last week about his film, which the Volkskrant daily described as “confrontational, moving and often painful.”

Rather it’s a story about three generations of a troubled but loving family, and an attempt to examine their dysfunctions in light of secondhand emotional damage in siblings attempting to live up to their fathers’ ideals and legacy. The film reveals that the patriarch, determined to rebuild the Jewish family destroyed by the Nazis, disowned Robert because he married a non-Jewish wife — the filmmaker’s mother.

The rejection was so absolute that in 1993, the elder Max Moszkowicz and three of his sons appeared as a family on a television talk show without ever mentioning Robert.

“Four musketeers,” Bram Moszkowicz told the host in describing his family on the show. “One for all, all for one.”

David concurred, saying with a grin: “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

Filmmaker Max Moszkowicz said the images, which he saw at 14, “cut like a knife.”

“I wanted to understand what my father had done to be cut from the family as though he never existed,” he said.

Ostracized by his kin, Robert Moszkowicz, a handsome fast talker who enjoyed Italian designer suits and expensive cars — though he struggles with debts, he still owns a late model Jaguar — was driven over the edge following the death of his third child. Jair lived less than one year. Robert had him with his second wife, a heroin addict who kept injecting throughout her pregnancy.

Robert Moszkowicz in Amsterdam in 2015. Photo from Max Moszkowicz
 
Following his first arrest in the 1990s for drug dealing, Robert received a visit in jail from his father, who despite their harsh disagreements took on his son’s legal case because not doing so “would’ve meant losing my son forever,” as the patriarch said during a television interview.

During the charged jailhouse meeting, the father told his wayward son that the facility reminded him of the concentration camp.

“That’s what I want to experience,” Robert replied in what he explained in the film as “a typical desire to feel what my father felt” in the Holocaust.

It’s a key moment in the documentary for understanding the Moszkowiczes’ self-destructive streak, the best-selling Dutch Jewish author Leon de Winter told JTA.

“It’s no coincidence that three sons of this amazing family were disbarred,” de Winter said.

Bram Moszkowicz’s disbarment for mismanagement of funds was “disproportionate,” de Winter said, noting that it ultimately came from legal transgressions motivated by an insatiable drive to please the family patriarch, who lost his parents and two siblings as a teenager in the Holocaust.

Max Moszkowicz, right, with Bram Moszkowicz in Amsterdam in 1987. Photo from Wikimedia Commons
 
The patriarch Max “raised his boys to be invincible,” de Winter said. “And they, in their desperate love and dedication to him, felt the only way to get close and equal to him was to follow him into hell.”

And though they built an empire, the Moszkowiczes always remained outsiders in the Netherlands post-Holocaust, separated from the intellectual elites they frequented by their own traumas and weaknesses for flashy cars and expensive clothes.

“It’s as though they overcompensated in a delayed and tragic effect of the hell that Max Moszkowicz went through in Auschwitz,” de Winter said of the family.

For all its tragic retrospection, “We Moszkowicz” also offers a sense of hope and redemption.

The filmmaker and his father are close, their bond cemented on a two-week trip they made to Israel in 2014. In one of the film’s most moving scenes, Robert Moszkowicz, who is somewhat Jewishly observant and recites his prayers in Hebrew, is overcome with emotion at the Western Wall and is hugged by his son as he cries against the ancient stones.

Robert is also a devoted father to his youngest children with his fourth wife. Opening up in this unprecedented manner to his son’s camera, the filmmaker said, “is his way of making up for mistakes.”

It was with an eye to the future that the younger Max Moszkowicz began making the film in the first place, he said, not wanting to repeat his father’s mistakes with his own first son, Ilai, who was born last year.

“Six years ago, I came drunk to a house party with a bloody mouth that I got from falling down en route,” the filmmaker recalled. “I had an alcohol and drug problem. I saw my bloodied reflection in a mirror at the party and I could see my father’s self-destructive pattern.”

That evening, filmmaker Max Moszkowicz decided to take a hard look at his life that resulted in the film.

“I feel I treated my demons,” he said. “I can move on with my life.”

Courtroom mavens give back on temple boards


One Century City law firm has assembled a dream team of high-powered leaders — in more ways than you might expect.

Three partners at Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP do much more than work long hours; they are, or recently have been, presidents at prominent local synagogues.

“It’s the culture of the law firm to serve and give back to the community,” said Norman Levine, 64, who practices real estate and intellectual property litigation, and is president of the Conservative Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino. “The firm has a long history of service to the Jewish community.”

His colleagues and fellow presidents — past and present — are Joel Weinstein of Sinai Temple in Westwood and Bernie Resser of Kehillat Israel (KI) in Pacific Palisades.

Arthur N. Greenberg, a founding partner of the firm, encourages the other lawyers to give back to the community, Levine said. Greenberg was a founding member of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Skirball Cultural Center. The firm as a whole has contributed to organizations like The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Jewish Free Loan Association, Bet Tzedek Legal Services and the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Levine, who has been VBS president since last May, said the volunteer work has never been an issue inside the firm.

“Maybe at other law firms if they had two synagogue presidents at one time it would be too much of a burden for the firm to carry, but it hasn’t impacted our legal practice,” he said.

Weinstein, 57, who practices corporate and securities law, among other things, said he pursued the position at Sinai, where he’s been a member since 1985, because “I wanted to give back to our temple, and I wanted to build on the successes of those leaders who were past presidents.”

Weinstein said that in his 10 months as president, he has helped enhance member-to-member and member-to-clergy relationships, sustain and boost membership, and answer to the needs of congregants.

From 2007 to 2009, Resser, 59, was president of KI, a Reconstructionist synagogue. A member for 16 years, he was initially inspired to get involved when his children were nearing their b’nai mitzvah ages. 

“We all ask our kids to do this stuff and commit to Judaism as adults,” he said. “I think instead of telling our kids what to do, we need to model the behavior that we want our kids to grow toward. When I was asked to be on a committee, I said yes.”

Resser said that during his term as president, he was taken aback by the similarities between his responsibilities at temple and his work in litigation and real estate; intellectual property; and restaurant, food and beverage law. 

“I was surprised by how much being a lawyer informed my job as temple president and how much being temple president has informed my professional life,” he said. “We need, as synagogue leaders, to be second to the goals of the organization. It’s not about me as a lawyer when it comes to my clients, and it’s not about me as a temple president when it comes to my temple. It’s about the congregation and making the congregation and lay leadership work together when it comes to their goals.”

Practicing law and serving on a board at a synagogue also require the ability to take the reins on issues and complete the work that needs to be done, an area where Weinstein said he’s been helped by his training as a lawyer. 

“Our relationship that we have with clients [requires that] we be responsive, reactive and proactive to them, just like at temple,” he said. “As a lawyer, I developed the ability to set agendas, [which helped me] serve as leaders of board meetings [at temple], welcome fresh perspectives, accept and implement people’s ideas, and set timelines and guidelines.”

At Greenberg Glusker, the three synagogue leaders know the importance of giving back, even if it means adding to their already strenuous schedules. 

“We volunteer what is a tremendous amount of time for our respective temples to enhance the values and benefits that all the members receive now and in the future,” Weinstein said. “We all recognize that we have a place in the world and that we’re here to do our best to make it a little bit better before we leave.”

Prodded by Danon, U.S. lawyers set to sue Goldstone


A group of American Jewish lawyers is set to file a civil lawsuit against Richard Goldstone initiated by Israeli lawmaker Danny Danon.

The class action suit against the author of the Goldstone Report, a United Nations document about Israel’s conduct during the monthlong Gaza war in the winter of 2008-09, is set to be filed next week in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan by attorney Steve Goldberg, according to a statement issued Wednesday from Danon’s office.

Danon met with the attorneys during a recent visit to the United States, the statement said. It gave no further information on Goldberg or the other attorneys involved in the suit.

The lawsuit will demand that Goldstone publicly apologize to the State of Israel and pay a symbolic amount of damages for the accusations he made in the U.N. Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict report.

“The Goldstone Report is nothing less than a modern version of the infamous blood libels against the Jewish people,” said Danon. “The distorted image that Judge Goldstone spread about Israel and the Israel Defense Forces has caused immeasurable damage to our citizens, and it will continue to do so for many years to come. I call on Goldstone to publicly apologize for his erroneous report with the hope that perhaps this will begin to repair some of the immense damage that has been inflicted on the international standing of the State of Israel.”

The Jerusalem Post reported that Danon said he plans to file a similar lawsuit in Israel that would go into effect if Goldstone visits the Jewish state. Goldstone said he will visit Israel in July after being invited by Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

Goldstone, a former South African judge, wrote in an Op-Ed last weekend in The Washington Post that Israel did not intentionally target civilians as a policy during the Gaza War, withdrawing a critical allegation in the Goldstone Report.

“We know a lot more today about what happened in the Gaza war of 2008-09 than we did when I chaired the fact-finding mission appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council that produced what has come to be known as the Goldstone Report,” Goldstone wrote. “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”

In the wake of the Post Op-Ed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a host of Israeli officials and organizations have called on the United Nations to cancel the Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

Goldstone told The Associated Press Wednesday that he will not seek to quash the report, which was presented to the Human Rights Council in September 2009.

Volunteer network aids Holocaust funds program



Bet Tzedek video shows a similar effort in 2006

A network of volunteers from many of the nation’s leading law firms, recruited through a Los Angeles initiative, is helping to write what appears to be the last chapter in the long and contentious history of reparations to Holocaust victims.

The windup comes none too soon for the estimated 50,000 to 75,000 remaining eligible survivors around the world, most now in their 80s and 90s.

Credit for this development goes to pressure applied by American organizations and legislators, as well as some energetic red tape-cutting by the present German government.

The ghetto work reparations program applies to a little-known class of Jews who worked in the Nazi-run ghettos of Eastern Europe on a “voluntary” or “at-will” basis.

Such “volunteers” were compensated by meager payments or an extra loaf of bread and may have had little actual choice if they wanted to survive, but they were differentiated from “forced laborers.”

Their work might range from cleaning German barracks, digging in peat bogs or removing maggot-infested corpses after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising was crushed. Many of the workers were later deported to concentration camps and perished in the Holocaust.

When the new program was announced, survivors in Los Angeles turned, as usual, to Bet Tzedek, the House of Justice, for advice and help in navigating through the bureaucratic channels.

Now one of the country’s premier public-interest law centers, Bet Tzedek was founded in 1974 and assists many thousands of low-income, disabled and elderly clients, regardless of race or religion.

With long experience aiding Holocaust survivors, Bet Tzedek was already familiar with the ghetto work program but realized that there were many other cities in the United States without such expertise.

Two men of widely disparate backgrounds got together to spread the word and set up a national training course for pro-bono lawyers and social service agencies, such as the Jewish Family Service.

One is Volker Schmidt, a German lawyer in charge of Holocaust-related services at Bet Tzedek, and the other is Stanley Levy, a senior attorney with the law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, as well as an ordained rabbi.

With the active support of his firm, Levy now spends half of his working time as national coordinator for a network of 40-50 major law firms in 20 cities to provide professional advice to survivors.

This kind of pro-bono arrangement by law firms is quite common, Levy said, adding, “Whatever you hear about lawyers, the indicator of a first-rate law firm nowadays is the extent of its community service.”

Levy is getting ready to distribute 500 copies of a one-hour training DVD conceived by Schmidt to explain the forms and background information required of applicants.

The German government will make a one-time payout of 2,000 euros, now equivalent to $3,000, to each former ghetto worker. This may not be a munificent sum, but it carries both symbolic value as an acknowledgment of responsibility and material value to many survivors.

“More than 25 percent of survivors exist below the poverty line,” said Schmidt. “Every morning, on my way to work, I pass a food pantry and see some of them lined up. That’s shameful.”

Of the 50,000 (according to German figures) to 75,000 (say American experts) worldwide survivors who qualify for ghetto work reparations, about half are estimated to live in Israel.

In the United States, the figure is about 20,000, with half living in New York and 5,000 to 6,000 in Los Angeles.

Many eligible survivors are reluctant to apply for the reparations, saying that they have been denied their claims so many times in the past that they don’t want to go through all the forms and traumatic memories again, Schmidt noted.

The original ghetto work reparation program started in 2002 and was administered by the Social Security offices of the various German provinces. It turned into a bureaucratic nightmare, in which responses were delayed by years and 92 percent of applications were denied.

After protests by the New York-based Claims Conference, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), Bet Tzedek and others, a new German administration transferred responsibility to the federal Finance Ministry and eased eligibility rules.

Instead of having to provide nonexistent documentation of their wartime histories, survivors need only file a statement confirming their ghetto work and must not have received payments under a different reparations program.

“There is no deadline for filing claims, but since reparations are paid only to living survivors, not their heirs, the real deadlines are their advanced ages,” Schmidt observed.

Schmidt has filed 460 applications since January, of which 36 have been approved with zero denials, and he has just been notified that inhabitants of the wartime Shanghai ghetto, though it was not under direct German control, are also eligible under the program.

At 42, Schmidt has had dual legal careers in Germany and California, including stints at the German Supreme Court and in the Crescent City district attorney’s office in northern California.

After private practice in Los Angeles, specializing in immigration and European law, he joined Bet Tzedek last October.

Schmidt, who was born well after the Nazi era, said he wasn’t trying to atone for the crimes of an earlier German generation in his present work. However, he added, “as long as there is one survivor alive and in need, the chapter has not been closed.”

Bet Tzedek benefit gathers lawyers and money


Bet Tzedek Draws Legion of Lawyers

A legion of lawyers in dark suits and ties, pencil skirts and high heels walked the rain-slicked streets of Century City to the Hyatt Regency. Inside, barristers filled the ballroom to celebrate Bet Tzedek and the people who devote themselves to public service and social justice.

More than 1,000 of Los Angeles’ most talented and generous lawyers pooled $2.3 million for “The House of Justice” during the 20th annual Dinner Gala on Jan. 22. They demonstrated their support for an organization that annually provides myriad legal services free of charge to 10,000 Los Angeles residents in need.
One of its founding members, Rabbi Stanley Levy, delivered opening remarks, oft quoting Einstein, and urged the crowd to consider the words, “We are here for the sake of others.”

Bart Pachino, Bet Tzedek board member and vice president of asset management for KB Home, said the organization provides many lawyers with meaning and fulfillment.

“You know, when you’re involved in the corporate world, the world of transactions, it’s easy to forget why you got involved in law in the first place,” he said. “This is a steady reminder.”

Mitchell Kamin, president and CEO of Bet Tzedek, said, “I believe Bet Tzedek’s work can affect the way children see the world.”

He shared a personal and passionate story about a conversation he had with his young son, who was attending the annual dinner for the first time.
“How do you tell a 9-year-old boy that slavery exists in Los Angeles, California in 2008?” Kamin asked.

He discussed the case of a Peruvian woman named “Elena” who suffered terrible abuses at the hands of a human trafficker who promised her opportunity in the United States. After a concerned neighbor suggested a terrified and withdrawn Elena contact Bet Tzedek, a devoted lawyer worked tirelessly to help her earn back her freedom.

“I believe that this world can be one of compassion, caring and responsibility, that we can have faith in our legal system and faith in humanity,” Kamin said.
Each year, more than 700 volunteers donate more than 35,000 hours of their time for pro-bono cases.

Representing the best of those involved were honorees Anna Burns, O’Melveny & Myers LLP and entertainment lawyer Kevin S. Marks, who was feted with the high prize of the evening — the Luis Lainer Founder’s Award — and a special performance by client Tom Waits, along with an appearance by Hollywood couple Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.

The evening was a powerful reminder of how lawyers do work for the common good. Beyond the prestige of a high-powered firm, a multimillion-dollar settlement, company cars or a steep expense account, Bet Tzedek proves the greatest power of law is in exemplifying its core philosophy: to serve the public interest and actively seek justice for all.

SCENE AND HEARD…

Liz and Martin Nachimson
Liz and Martin Nachimson were feted by the Ben Zakkai Honor Society (BZHS), an alumni society of NCSY, the popular youth program of the Orthodox Union. The North Hollywood couple was presented with the Enid and Harold H. Boxer Award on Jan. 6 for their role in establishing an OU presence on the West Coast. Martin Nachimson currently serves as chair of the OU’s board of governors. The BZHS functions as a fundraising arm for summer programs in the United States and Israel.

Family Law Center Thanks Its Founding ‘Angel’


If you meet Grace Quinn sunning herself on the patio of her home at Westwood Horizons Retirement Residence or pushing her bright red walker in Trader Joe’s, you wouldn’t guess that this nonagenarian is one of the founders of Levitt & Quinn Family Law Center.

In 1981, a 66-year-old Quinn and two other partners traded the Beverly Hills life of country clubs and card games for a rat-infested storefront practice in Silver Lake, where the streets teamed with drug dealers, prostitutes and gang members. Even after moving to Westwood Horizons at 80, she’d leave the retirement community where everything was geared to making her comfortable and commute almost an hour each way to do the work she loved. She continued to work for the center for five more years before she retired in 2001.

Although its original founders are no longer with the center, the nonprofit continues to offer low-cost legal services to help lower-income households resolve family conflicts. Quinn says she misses rolling up to the Sunset Boulevard center with partner Ethel Levitt (who died of a stroke in 1995), in her beige Cadillac featuring the license plate “LAWMAMA.”

“Life was good to me,” she said. “I wanted to make a difference, and I wanted to give something back.”

The center doles out legal advice to the working poor, aiding neighborhood residents with divorce, custody, paternity, adoption and guardianship — issues that could well become a matter of life and death.

Although Quinn no longer devotes her time to Levitt & Quinn, her name continues to grace the organization’s stationery with the title “founder” right next to it. This past year the nonprofit honored her 90th birthday at their 24th annual Awards Dinner.

In her comfortable apartment at Westwood Horizons, Quinn reminisces, rummaging through scrapbooks for photos, repositioning meaningful art work on her wall and, in the end, pointedly nodding at the red walker parked in a corner, next to a rarely used cane.

“I just use them when I go out,” she says with pride as she walks past them, straight as a stick.

Quinn grew up in a middle-class home, but when she graduated from Roosevelt High School the Great Depression had devastated her parents’ life savings. Money for college was out of the question, but a perk of her job as a registrar for the dean of Pacific Coast University College of Law was the opportunity to attend law school at night.

Quinn was one of about five women in the class, and when she graduated four years later she was at the top of her class. She passed the bar in 1937, and took a civil service job as a researcher.

After marrying journalist Joe Quinn in 1941 and giving birth to her sons, Tom and Bob, she left her legal job to become a stay-at-home mother.

Once her youngest son started school, Quinn started work as a volunteer attorney with the Los Angeles Legal Aid Foundation. Around the same time, her husband began working as L.A. deputy mayor under Mayor Sam Yorty, serving out three terms from 1961 to 1973. Eventually, she left her work with Legal Aid to become an adjunct ambassador to work beside her husband, traveling around the world to countries like German, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

When Joe died at 76, the always-practical Quinn returned to Legal Aid after telling herself, “Time to go back to work.”

In 1980, after President Reagan cut back funding to the family law division of Legal Aid, Quinn, Levitt and Ziva Naumann, who had all met at a United Way luncheon, decided to found Levitt & Quinn.

“We had a huge backlog of cases, about 10,000 people waiting to be interviewed. Some people had been on the list for years,” Quinn said.

By 1981, Levitt & Quinn incorporated as a nonprofit law firm. They found an office on Sunset Boulevard that was cheap as well as convenient to bus lines and the courthouse. Neither partner ever took a salary and both supported the firm with their own funds.

“I had a law degree and I wanted to help people who didn’t know how to help themselves,” Quinn said. “We developed do it-yourself divorce classes, which empowered women to get involved in their own cases — filling out paperwork, filing forms at the court house — so they felt more like partners than clients.”

In the beginning, the money came out of their savings accounts. To supplement, they organized fundraisers — rummage sales, Las Vegas nights, buffet dinners — their guest list straight out of their phone books, with Naumann catering most of them herself.

Today, the law firm is more vibrant than ever and supports five paid attorneys (along with volunteers), a staff of 10 administrators and legal assistants, as well as a 12-member advisory council and a 17-member board of directors. And the firm has since moved to new digs on Beverly Boulevard, still close to the courthouse.

“We still operate on the same vision our founders created in 1981,” says Joan Alexander, director of development. “The difference is we’re bigger and more streamlined.”

“I loved working with these women,” Quinn says. “We were good friends, and we respected each other. It was the friendship of a lifetime.”

On a recent visit to the newly renovated law firm, Quinn entered the front door where, as usual, a crowd of people was waiting to see a lawyer. On the wall was a striking photo of the three founders, archangels of the firm.

A young Latino man looked Quinn up and down, then looked at the photo, then back at Quinn. A smile came over his face. As she proceeded to leave, he followed her out to the parking lot, asking if he could help her down the stairs and into her car. He was almost in tears, and, almost embarrassed to say it to Quinn directly.

“This woman is an angel,” he said. “She saved my life.”

Pollard Lawyers Get Day in Federal Court


Sept. 2 is going to be a big day for Jonathan Pollard: The American Jewish spy is going to get another day in court.

Pollard’s lawyers will have 40 minutes in a federal courtroom to explain why they should be permitted to continue efforts to rescind the life sentence he received 18 years ago for committing espionage for Israel.

Years of tenacious motions by attorneys Jacques Semmelman and Eliot Lauer either have been vigorously opposed by government attorneys or allowed to languish in the court.

Now U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan has granted a hearing to Pollard and his attorneys — who are working on the case pro bono. Semmelman and Lauer will get 30 minutes to argue why they should be permitted to appeal, the government can take a half hour to respond and then Pollard’s attorneys will be granted 10 minutes for the last word.

So pivotal is the hearing that the judge has ordered federal prison officials in Butner, N.C., to shuttle Pollard to the U.S. District Court in Washington for the event. Prison officials said they are uncertain whether U.S. marshals would fly Pollard to the nation’s capital or drive.

"Normally, we drive them for a mere six-hour trip," a prison representative said, "but a high-profile prisoner like Pollard might be flown."

He added that arrangements would be made for Pollard’s kosher meals.

Despite mounds of legal briefs and well-researched citations, Pollard’s hearing boils down to two issues:

  • Was the ex-naval intelligence officer convicted in March 1987 on the basis of a misleading secret 46-page affidavit?

  • Was he denied due process by a defense attorney who declined to file a routine appeal after Judge Aubrey Robinson stunned Pollard and threw a crowded courtroom into pandemonium with an unexpected life sentence? The life sentence violated the prosecutor’s plea agreement to not ask for life in exchange for Pollard’s cooperation.

Then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger submitted the secret affidavit at virtually the last minute at Robinson’s personal request. In the affidavit, Weinberger wrote: "It is difficult for me, in the so-called ‘year of the spy’ to conceive of a greater harm to national security."

The message, backed up with some 20 classified documents, was clear: Give Pollard a life sentence — regardless of the written plea agreement.

Fifteen years later, Weinberger conceded that "the Pollard matter was comparatively minor. It was made far bigger than its actual importance." Pressed on why this was so, Weinberger replied, "I don’t know why — it just was."

Attorneys Semmelman and Lauer have been filing motion after motion to see the supposedly secret documents so they can adequately appeal. But their efforts have been denied on the grounds of national security, even though they have been granted the necessary security clearances. Semmelman is a former U.S. attorney. The documents concern sources and methods used two decades ago, before the proliferation of personal computers.

The second question asks whether Pollard was denied due process on account of "ineffective assistance of counsel," according to the motion.

Pollard’s attorney at the time, Richard Hibey, has been widely criticized for inaction. He failed to object when prosecutors violated the plea agreement and asked for life, failed to call for an evidentiary hearing on Weinberger’s secret affidavit and then — to the surprise of most observers — declined to file the routine notice of appeal in the 10 days allotted.

For years, Hibey has dodged all questions on his representation of Pollard.

Despite the hearing, there are few prospects for a Pollard release in the immediate future.

Even if Semmelman and Lauer were granted the opportunity to appeal — consistently denied because Hibey failed to file the 10-day notice — it might take another year or two for any decision.

Pollard already has served far longer than the average for people convicting of spying either for enemies of the United States or it allies.

JDL Trial Set for October


The trial of Jewish Defense League (JDL) leaders Irv Rubin and Earl Krugel on criminal conspiracy charges in the alleged plot to detonate bombs at a mosque and a congressman’s office is scheduled to begin in October. As Rubin and Krugel await their trial in a shared cell at the Metropolitan Detention Center, information has slowly come out about the informant who helped the government build its case since the arrests in December.

At the heart of the case against Rubin and Krugel are hours of tapes recorded by an informant working for the FBI. The tapes have been turned over to defense lawyers but are still being transcribed.

However, Rubin’s attorney, Brian Altman, believes that there is more to the case than the version of events on the tapes. "The government has an agenda," he says, "so they’ve investigated along that agenda. Then they dump it on you and — bam!"

Altman believes the tapes, once they are fully transcribed, will help prove that his client — who was present at only two of the 11 recorded meetings — was convinced to go along with the alleged bomb plot by the informant. Listening to the tapes, says Altman, "there’s a strong suggestion that the government’s informant was critical to this plan: he’s the one who’s very animated."

The informant, Danny Gillis, 23, is a former Navy petty officer who, while in high school, was reportedly a member of a Jewish pride gang in the Porter Ranch area of the San Fernando Valley. A source close to Gillis says that while he often fought with white supremacist youths while in high school, he has no arrest record.

While serving in the Navy, the source says, Gillis was the JDL’s "No. 1 kid in L.A.," who often threatened or fought with people identified by the JDL as anti-Semites. But Gillis ended his contact with the JDL in early 2001, after his honorable discharge from the Navy. Months before he was allegedly recruited by Rubin and Krugel for the bombings, Gillis had begun taking classes at a community college and working as a bank teller.

According to the source, Gillis turned to the FBI because of the targets chosen, not the violence he was asked to commit. Gillis’ interest in the JDL reportedly stemmed from his hatred of skinheads, especially a racist gang known as the Peckerwoods. The source says that Gillis has Muslim and Arab American friends and believed the JDL went too far in targeting a mosque,"where there could be innocent children." When Gillis learned the JDL wanted him to attack Muslim and Arab American targets, Gillis turned to the FBI and agreed to record their meetings, according to the source.

The FBI paid Gillis "lost salary," an amount equal to what the informant had been making at his bank teller job before becoming an informant. Krugel defense attorney Mark Werksman says he has requested an interview with Gillis, but "I’ve been told that he wouldn’t speak with us." Altman has also been unable to speak with the prosecution’s star witness.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Jessner, who is prosecuting the case, says that Gillis is neither required nor forbidden to speak with Rubin’s or Krugel’s attorneys. "Informants are always protected," Jessner says. "If the informant wishes to speak to the defense, the informant may. Our job is to protect the informant, not to keep the informant from speaking to defense counsel."

Gillis is currently living outside of Los Angeles and plans to "disappear" after the trial, scheduled to begin Oct. 1.

Balancing the Scales


What is the duty to assist those in danger under Jewish law compared to American law? The question is no mere academic exercise to Neil H. Cogan, dean of the Whittier Law School, who spoke on the topic last week as the inaugural speaker of the recently formed Jewish Lawyers of Orange County.

More than 50 lawyers attended the Newport Beach luncheon at the Pacific Club, the second Jewish professional group organized under the Jewish Federation of Orange County. In addition to a 10-person advisory panel, the group’s honorary chair members include Todd Spitzer, a county supervisor; Joel Kuperberg, Irvine’s city attorney, and Kenneth Wolfson, counsel to developers of the Foothill Ranch and Rancho Santa Margarita.

"What the committee wanted was to tie into Jewish life," said Jeffrey Rips, the Federation’s campaign director and group organizer. Like the Federation’s other professional group, who are real estate executives, the lawyers’ group intends to meet three times a year. In addition to socializing and networking, the goal is for each event to also count as credit toward the State Bar’s continuing-education requirement. Whittier Law School certified the first event met credit requirements.

The school’s dean said such academic-sounding discussions can take on contemporary relevance when considering the extraordinary lengths the U.S. government sometimes takes to aid its citizens throughout the world. Yet, unlike Jewish law, which compels intervention to assist those in danger, most American statutes are absent a legal obligation and instead encourage autonomy, he said.

"Having talks about Jewish law or Japanese law or Islamic law, all of that is helpful because it helps thinking," Cogan said. "Lawyers have been trained to think outside the box before it was a phrase."

Cogan, too, will have to heed his own advice to achieve the goals he has set for himself and the school since relocating from Connecticut last July.

"I hope to take what is already a very fine school and build it into a state and national school," said Cogan, 57, who competed against 100 candidates vying for the job. The school’s previous dean, John A. FitzRandolph, who over a quarter century led drives for accreditation, relocation and growth, died last March, less than a year after retiring.

The 35-year-old law school relocated to a new Costa Mesa campus in 1997 from Los Angeles’ Hancock Park. Next year, two new teachers are to be added to the 27-person faculty, which includes three teaching deans. More than half of the school’s 653 students attend full time and 42 percent are minorities. Among the graduating class of 2000, 86 percent were employed a year later.

Cogan’s goal is burnishing Whittier’s reputation by encouraging faculty scholarship and establishing specialized centers where students learn the rules of their profession. He has also added a summer abroad program, including an alliance with Tel Aviv’s Bar-Ilan University.

"It’s really support and encouragement that will make a difference," said Cogan, editor of three works on constitutional subjects and author of numerous articles cited by law reviews.

When tapped last March for the job, Cogan had been on sabbatical, serving as a visiting scholar at Yale University and coordinator of a distance-learning venture at New York University School of Law. For the previous seven years, Cogan was a professor and dean at Quinnipiac College School of Law in Connecticut.

Cogan, one of the few Orthodox law school deans in the country, often must balance observant practices with the modern workplace. For example, bringing along kosher-prepared food to a lunch meeting would be gauche. "I have to meet people. I can’t bring a brown bag to a restaurant," said Cogan, whose typical order is a tuna fish sandwich. "I don’t neglect any part of my job," he added.

Cogan lives in the Pico-Robertson area of Los Angeles with two of his five children. His wife and three younger children will relocate later this year.

In May, the Federation will consider creating similar networking groups for the county’s Jewish physicians and high-tech executives.

Demonstrating Support


After an appeal by Iran’s chief rabbi, the Iranian judiciary has announced it will allow 13 Jews accused of spying for Israel and America to hire their own lawyers, said an American Jewish leader.

The 13 will also get a few extra days to prepare their case, according to Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Previously, the “Iran 13” — who could be sentenced to death — had been represented by lawyers appointed by the Islamic fundamentalist-controlled judiciary. The trial had been scheduled for April 13, but now will likely be held April 18, Hoenlein said Wednesday.

Yet despite the Iranian concessions, Hoenlein said, American Jewish organizations will go ahead with a flurry of high-profile activities aimed at both highlighting the plight of the prisoners and pressuring Tehran to end the entire yearlong ordeal.

“Our goal is their freedom, not just a solution to the lawyer question,” Hoenlein said.

Iranian officials have indicated that the trial will be a one-day affair. If that’s the case, the Jewish advocates will press Iran to release the prisoners on bail, regardless of the verdict, so they can return to their homes for Passover, which begins the evening of April 19.

It’s unclear what prompted Tehran’s change of mind.

Aside from the international outcry the arrests have provoked, some in the United States suspect that Iran did not want the trial to coincide with the beginning of the Islamic month of Moharram. The month commemorates the martyrdom of the prophets Hossein and Hassan.

Some Shi’ites, to express their grief, take to the streets with chains, knives and machetes, publicly inflicting harm on themselves. Out of respect, Iranian Jews and Christians generally stay indoors. Observers suggest the government may have found it in its best interests not to inflame passions on the streets with the trial of alleged “Zionist spies.”

Both Israel and the United States vehemently deny the charges against the Iranian Jews, most of them communal or religious leaders from the southern cities of Shiraz and Isfahan.

Now, even with their own lawyers, the prospects for a fair trial seem more remote than ever. The hard-line clerics who control Iran’s courts appear likely to renege on earlier promises to permit media and foreign observers to monitor the court proceedings.

Until now, U.S. advocates have pursued quiet diplomacy, marshaling support from many governments and human rights groups to release the detainees — or at least to ensure a fair trial.

But having seen little progress, the advocates are now taking a more high-profile approach.

On the diplomatic front, Hoenlein said he expects the U.S. Congress to pass a bipartisan resolution that will denounce Iran for its detention of the Jews.

Governments around the world are being asked to pass similar resolutions, he added, while various leaders — including some from Arab and Muslim countries — have indicated they will step up efforts to pressure Tehran.

At the grass-roots level, vigils, but not street demonstrations, are being planned at various locations in the United States, said Hoenlein,.

Nationwide, rabbis across the religious spectrum have agreed to recite special prayers this weekend. In Los Angeles, the Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations will hold a special commemoration on Sunday to mark the one-year anniversary of the arrests of 10 of the Iran 13.

Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, chastised the Iranian government. “None of the aspects of this case are being handled in accordance with Iranian law, let alone international standards,” he said. “This is not an issue we can compromise on.” On Wednesday, Kermanian joined officials at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles in urging Jews around the world to offer a misheberakh, or blessing of healing, for the imprisoned Jews as they go to trial.

The Jews were reportedly arrested along with eight Muslim men. But none of the 21 has been formally charged, which also violates Iranian law, says Pooya Dayanim, the council’s spokesman and himself a lawyer.

“Basically, these Jews are hostages,” said Dayanim. “Iran may feel the longer it delays the trial, the less it will be internationalized and hurt them. Our job is to remind them that the world community still cares about these people.”

The Jews are all community or religious leaders — except for a 16-year- old boy who is one of three now out on bail.

Their arrest was believed to be part of a political battle between Iran’s hard-line revolutionaries and reformists behind Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.

American observers had hoped that the resounding victory of Iran’s reformists in the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections would bode well for the Jewish prisoners.

If anything, however, their situation has worsened, said Hoenlein.

“All the things we’d been promised and thought would come true, just the opposite has happened,” he said.

“The mythology of Khatami being a reformer is just that — mythology. So far, he has not shown himself to be any different from the others. If he’s in control, the buck stops with him and he’s responsible for this situation. If he’s not in control, why are we dealing with him and making concessions?”