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R.I. bar association blast bias claims about judge

PROVIDENCE -- Rhode Island Bar Association leaders said they are outraged by charges of racism and anti-Semitism stemming from US District Judge Mary Lisi's handling of the lawsuit brought by the mother of slain police Sergeant Cornel Young Jr.

"These charges are unsubstantiated, divisive, and need to stop," Philip Weinstein, bar association vice president, said at a news conference Thursday, according to The Providence Journal. "The unwarranted personal attacks on Judge Lisi's character, and upon our federal judiciary, obscure and ultimately detract from the important legal issues that are the fair subject of debate."

The association also provided copies of a Nov. 17 letter in which Leisa Young's lawyers, Barry Scheck, Nick Brustin, and Robert Mann, urged the group "to issue a statement denouncing the recent charges of anti-Semitism leveled against our federal judiciary."

"We are all Jewish," Scheck, Brustin, and Mann wrote. "We deplore these inappropriate attacks, which deflect the court's and the parties' attention from the important issues before the court. We authorize the bar to release this letter."

Young, who was black, was killed in January 2000 while off-duty when he came out of a diner with his gun drawn to help with a disturbance and was shot by two white patrolmen. They mistook him for a suspect. His mother, Leisa, filed a $20 million civil-rights and wrongful-death suit against the city and police supervisors.

Nine days into the trial, Lisi removed Scheck and Brustin from the case and vowed to pursue sanctions against all of Young's lawyers, saying they had filed false statements about her actions. Later, Lisi dismissed the entire case, saying the suit could not prevail "as a matter of law."

Critics accused Lisi of racism. Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz blasted Lisi's decision to remove Scheck, noting that Senior US District Judge Ronald Lagueux had barred Dershowitz from his courtroom in the 1980s, when Lagueux was a state judge, because of Dershowitz's book "Reversal of Fortune."

In a radio interview, Dershowitz said, "The fact that all of these out-of-state lawyers, so many of whom are Jewish, tend to get thrown off cases raises very, very significant prima facie evidence of bigotry."

Weinstein called that claim of anti-Semitism "scurrilous."

Afterward, reporters questioned the 11 lawyers gathered for the news conference, noting that all were white and asking how they could question the perceptions of black critics.

"If they are going to talk about racism, then there should have been a diversified group of people standing there. I wonder how many swimming coaches cannot swim," Clifford Montiero, president of the Providence chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said later.

At the news conference, Weinstein noted that the president-elect of the bar association, Jametta Alston, is black, but he said she was unable to attend yesterday's event.

Weinstein also said the bar association is "very upset with the removal of the lawyers and with the sanctions hearing for one of the best lawyers in the state."

He also said it was "unfortunate" that there was not a black person on the 10-member jury.

"We don't have a lot of black jurors being called in the federal court," he said. "That's the way things are, and maybe there should be inquiry as to how jurors are chosen, so there could be a broader choice of jurors across the line."

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