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In re Fula

decided: February 17, 1982.

IN THE MATTER OF YAASMYN D. FULA, APPELLANT.


Appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Bonsal, J., adjudging appellant in civil contempt under 28 U.S.C. § 1826(a) for refusing to supply subpoenaed evidence to a federal grand jury. Contempt order vacated and remanded.

Before Meskill and Cardamone, Circuit Judges, and Holden,*fn* District Judge.

Author: Meskill

This expedited appeal involves an order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Bonsal, J., finding Yaasmyn D. Fula in civil contempt for refusing to comply with a prior order of the court requiring her to supply hair samples and handwriting exemplars to a federal grand jury. While we find Fula's other claims without merit, we are constrained to vacate her contempt citation because of the district court's failure to conduct a contempt proceeding open to the public. In Re Grand Jury Proceedings Involving Eve Rosahn, 671 F.2d 690, at 696 (2d Cir. 1982) (hereinafter Rosahn).

BACKGROUND

Fula is presently employed as a paralegal by the Bronx Legal Services Corporation and as a word processor operator in a private New York law firm. Since 1976, she has also worked as a paralegal with the National Task Force for Cointelpro Litigation and Research ("Task Force"), described by Fula as a collection "of lawyers, paralegals, and law students who are attempting to expose the racism and hypocrisy of the policies of the United States Government and, in particular, its law enforcement intelligence operations directed against Black organizations." D.Ct. op. at 1-2.*fn1 She claims that while working for the "Task Force she (has) interviewed many clients who were targets of Government investigations of alleged "Black Nationalist hate groups,'...."*fn2 Id. at 2.

This case arises from much the same factual setting as Rosahn. On October 20, 1981, an attempted robbery of a Brinks armored truck occurred in Nanuet, New York. One guard and two police officers were killed during the incident and subsequent escape.

Several pieces of evidence linked Fula to these events. One of the suspected robbers was Nathaniel Burns, a former member of the Black Panther Party, see Brief for Appellant at 9. Fula has stated that Burns and an accomplice stayed at her Bronx apartment for an unspecified period following the robbery attempt.*fn3 When Burns was captured and the accomplice killed in a shoot-out with police on October 23, they were driving a car registered to Fula.*fn4 A bullet extracted from the accomplice's body was traced to the gun of one of the police officers killed during the Brinks incident. In addition, a third suspect in the Brinks robbery, Anthony LaBorde, was a co-worker of Fula at Bronx Legal Services. Thus, when a federal grand jury was empanelled in the Southern District of New York to investigate the robbery and to "question whether it was a part of a larger pattern of criminal activities(,)" D.Ct. op. at 4, Fula was subpoenaed to appear.

The grand jury ordered that Fula, in addition to testifying, produce physical evidence including handwriting exemplars and hair samples.*fn5 Following several delays caused by her attorney's involvement in out-of-state litigation, Fula appeared before the grand jury and refused to produce the subpoenaed evidence. The government moved before Judge Gerard Goettel, then presiding as the Part I judge, to compel Fula to produce the handwriting and hair samples. Fula cross moved to quash the subpoena on a variety of grounds, including that it violated her rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth and Thirteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.*fn6

On November 30, Judge Goettel denied Fula's motion to quash the subpoena and ordered her to appear before the grand jury on December 2 and to produce the handwriting and hair samples at that time. Judge Goettel issued a ten-page opinion on December 2 explaining his reasons for rejecting Fula's claims. See note 1, supra. After Fula appeared before the grand jury later that day and again refused to comply with the subpoena, she was returned to Part I, where Judge Dudley Bonsal was presiding. The government requested that the courtroom be cleared of everyone except Fula and her counsel, Lewis Myers, because the matter before the court was ancillary to a grand jury proceeding. Myers indicated that the other persons in the courtroom were attorneys and a paralegal who had accompanied him and requested that they be permitted to stay. Judge Bonsal refused the request in order to protect the secrecy of the grand jury proceedings. Myers then asked that one attorney who had assisted him in preparing the case, Marty Copeland, be permitted to stay. The government stated no objection, but asked that Copeland file a notice of appearance. Copeland, apparently because of her employer's policies, declined to file a notice of appearance and left the courtroom.

With the courtroom cleared, the grand jury minutes containing Fula's refusal to produce the subpoenaed evidence were read. The following colloquy then occurred:

(THE GOVERNMENT): Your Honor, at this point, for the record, it can become an open proceeding. What has taken place before the grand jury must remain sealed, but at this point if your Honor is going to inquire of Miss Fula if she will persist in her refusal to comply with Judge Goettel's order, from this moment on it can be an open proceeding because that is now ancillary to Judge Goettel's order.

MR. MYERS: Judge, I would like to invite counsel back in. I think that the matters that were secret-

THE COURT: Wait a minute. We are building this up and I don't want to build it up any more than it already is.

J.App. at 42. Without reopening the courtroom, Judge Bonsal asked whether Fula would comply with the subpoena. When Fula's counsel responded negatively, Judge Bonsal held her in civil contempt pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1826(a),*fn7 and ordered her confined ...


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