San Francisco judge weighs issues
in surveillance lawsuits
By Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News Service
February 10, 2007
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - A federal judge who is presiding
over more than 30 domestic surveillance lawsuits heard two hours
of legal arguments by attorneys on two key procedural issues Friday
but deferred ruling on them.
U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker did not say when he will
decide on the rulings, in lawsuits filed by citizens and groups
in courts around the country against telecommunications companies,
including AT&T Corp., Verizon Communications Inc., BellSouth
Corp. and Sprint Nextel Corp. They accuse the corporations of
aiding the National Security Agency in alleged illegal warrantless
surveillance of Americans' phone calls and e-mails.
The cases were consolidated in Walker's court for the purpose
of judicial efficiency.
The first issue debated is the U.S. government's request for
a stay of proceedings in all cases until the 9th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals rules on the government's appeal of Walker's
refusal last July to dismiss the first case to be filed.
That lawsuit, known as the Hepting case, was filed against AT&T
by four Californians represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The U.S. Justice Department claims that the lawsuits should be
dismissed because state secrets could be revealed.
The other issue that was argued is whether Walker's decision
refusing to dismiss the Hepting case should be applied to the
The plaintiffs want Walker to allow their cases to go forward
soon for hearings on the merits of their arguments because they
believe they might have to wait a long time for the 9th Circuit
to make a ruling.
However, U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Carl Nichols
said Walker should wait until the appellate court rules.
He said, "There are important legal issues before the 9th
Circuit that could apply to all the cases and I believe we're
on the cusp of a 9th Circuit ruling."
Walker jokingly responded, "You can live a long time on
the cusp." At another point, Walker asked Spring attorney
John Kester why the cases shouldn't go forward immediately.
"Why not tee it up now?" Walker asked.
Kester replied, "This isn't a golf game, your honor."
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