The Firms

June 11, 2008 12:46 PM

Unsung Civil Rights Heroes Honored at Clifford Chance

Posted by Daphne Eviatar

The plaid shirts, Birkenstock sandals, tattoos, and jean shorts hinted that this was not the usual law firm crowd. Indeed, it's not often that heroes of the radical Left are honored at a white-shoe law firm like Clifford Chance. But last night, there they were: Janet Nocek, Hany Kiareldeen, and Ray Rogers--just three of many recent victims of the sort of arbitrary, Kafkaesque government actions that most of us thought had ended with the McCarthy era.

Wwbh_cover_2As Georgetown law professor and Center for Constitutional Rights lawyer David Cole noted when he introduced We Will Be Heard, a new collection of oral histories and photography by Bud and Ruth Schultz, equally shocking violations of civil rights and civil liberties are taking place today. "The strength of the Constitution is ultimately dependent on our understanding of what it protects," he noted, praising the book for portraying little-known men and women--some of whom have been Cole's clients--for standing up to unconstitutional government action. They include: Margaret Randall, ordered deported in 1984 on the basis of her past communist writings; seven Palestinians arrested in Los Angeles in 1987 for distributing literature for the PLO, and who spent the next 21 years in deportation proceedings; and a detainee locked up for 19 months in New Jersey on the basis of secret evidence, which turned out to be charges from his ex-wife, who’d previously been found to have lied to the court.

The walls of Clifford Chance's New York office lobby now attest to the courage of those who've stood up against such abuses and insisted on exercising their constitutional rights. They feature photographs of and words from 19 such individuals included in the book. Most of the images are of relatively unknown, unsung heroes from the days of the Palmer Raids on suspected radicals during World War I and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The installment also includes testimonies and images of Arab Americans and others suspected of connections to terrorism today.

Clifford Chance sponsored the book party on the advice of a consultant who advises the firm on art and diversity. "We found this to be an extraordinary book with riveting subject matter that captured our attention right away," said Craig Medwick, managing partner of Clifford Chance in the Americas, introducing the event last night. "While it was troubling to read about what happened to so many people, it also inspired us to help protect others who could be similarly afflicted without legal representation."

Medwick said the firm--among the first large law firms to take on the cases of detainees at Guantánamo Bay--in the next year will commit at least 4,000 hours, or about 20 percent of the pro bono hours performed by its U.S. lawyers, to civil rights and civil liberties cases in the United States.

--Vivia Chen and Daphne Eviatar

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