Judicial Watch taking Justice Department to court on New Black Panther FOIA

Judicial Watch, the non-profit legal watchdog organization, has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice in an effort to force the government to make public documents showing involvement by President Obama’s political appointees in the decision to drop prosecution of the New Black Panthers case.

The suit is in response to DOJ’s failure to respond credibly to a Jan. 19, 2010, FOIA by Judicial Watch for all “records of Associate Attorney General Thomas J. Perrelli concerning meetings with the White House on the Justice Department’s voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party.”

The government did not respond to the Judicial Watch FOIA until March 26, and then said it had found no documents responsive to the request.

But then Judicial Watch received in a separate FOIA proceeding a document that described at least eight emails exchanged between Obama political appointees and career attorneys concerning resolution of the controversial case. Those emails are among 122 documents DOJ is refusing to turn over to Judicial Watch.

“Why should anyone believe the Justice Department’s story regarding these records? We now know Justice officials falsely stated that no political appointees were involved in the Black Panther decision. The Justice Department continues to withhold hundreds of pages of records that could shed light on this scandal,” said Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton.

“And despite multiple press reports documenting Perrelli’s White House meetings, the Justice Department cannot find a single record related to these meetings. We’re tired of getting the run-around and that’s why we sued,” Fitton said.

The case stems from an incident that occurred Nov. 4, 2008, outside a Philadelphia polling station in which two members of the New Black Panther, one of whom displayed a police-style baton, harrassed white voters and hurled racial epithets. A video of part of the incident was posted on the Internet.

Despite having strong cases against both men, the Obama Justice Department opted for a plea agreement with minimal punishment, including an agreement not to carry weapons near Philadelphia voting places prior to the 2012 elections.

For more on this case and its background, go here.

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