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Law school deans sign letter condemning boycott

Pentagon official provoked outcry

The deans of Massachusetts' major law schools joined about 100 law deans in signing a letter condemning a senior Pentagon official's suggestion that US companies should boycott law firms representing detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The comments last week by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Charles D. "Cully" Stimson provoked outrage from the legal community, and the Pentagon has distanced itself from the remarks.

The deans' letter, which was co authored by Emily A. Spieler , dean of Northeastern University School of Law , denounces Stimson's comments as "contrary to the basic tenets of American law" and calls on the Bush administration to "promptly and unequivocally repudiate" them.

"Our American legal tradition has honored lawyers who, despite their personal beliefs, have zealously represented mass murderers, suspected terrorists, and Nazi marchers," said the letter, which was sent to The Boston Globe and The New York Times yesterday. "At this moment in time, when our courts have endorsed the right of the Guantanamo detainees to be heard in courts of law, it is critical that qualified lawyers provide effective representation to these individuals."

The letter is signed by Elena Kagan , dean of Harvard Law School ; John H. Garvey , dean of Boston College Law School ; Maureen A. O'Rourke , dean of Boston University School of Law ; Robert H. Smith , dean of Suffolk University Law School ; and Arthur R. Gaudio , dean of Western New England College School of Law , among many others nationwide.

Last Thursday, Stimson told an interviewer on Federal News Radio that he found it "shocking" that many of the country's major law firms represent the detainees. After ticking off a list of some of the firms providing free legal representation to detainees, he said corporate executives "are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms." He also suggested that some of the law firms were quietly taking money for their services.

Countering Stimson, US Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told The New York Times last week that "good lawyers representing the detainees is the best way to ensure that justice is done in these cases." Yesterday, Department of Defense spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Brian Maka said that Stimson's remarks "do not represent the views of the Defense Department or the thinking of its leadership."

Still, the comments infuriated the legal community. The American Bar Association and the New York State Bar Association issued statements condemning the remarks, as did US Senator Patrick Leahy , the Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

After learning of Stimson's remarks last week, Spieler said she quickly decided that the law deans should respond.

She contacted Harold Hongju Koh , dean of Yale Law School, and together they wrote and circulated the letter via e-mail over the holiday weekend.

"Law schools are responsible for training people who will uphold the basic tenets of American law, and that includes both modeling and encouraging our students to understand their obligations to both do pro bono work -- work that is not paid -- and to provide legal services to people who may be unpopular, but who deserve full hearings in courts of law," Spieler said. "The notion that there might be a call for retaliation against individuals or law firms that . . . do this kind of work runs completely counter to those principles."

Garvey, the Boston College Law School dean, said he did not hesitate to sign the letter.

"What I thought of was, at the time of the Boston Massacre, the British soldiers who shot the American citizens were charged, and John Adams represented them," he said. "It's a very American thing to do to make sure that people who might not be very popular are well represented when they're in trouble with the law."

Boston attorney Melissa Hoffer wrote in a Globe opinion column last week that the six men she represents are being held indefinitely.

"Not one of these men has been charged with a crime," she wrote. "All they seek is a fair hearing before a judge in a court of law to prove they are not so-called 'enemy combatants.' "

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.