It has been two years since defense attorneys for Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative Sami Al-Arian moved to dismiss a criminal contempt case against him. But nothing has happened in the ensuing 24 months because U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema has opted not to rule, either dismissing the case or letting it proceed to trial.
At issue is Al-Arian's claim that his 2006 guilty plea for conspiring to provide goods and services to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad was based on his understanding that it would end all his dealings with the government, including what he calls cooperation. In their motion, defense attorneys argue there is "uncontroverted evidence that the government induced" the plea, then reneged on its promise.
In earlier hearings, Brinkema expressed significant concern over that prospect.
But a grand jury subpoena is compelled testimony, not voluntary cooperation. And prosecutors point out that, for such a vital element in his plea decision, the government pledge to allow him to evade such testimony is never mentioned in his plea agreement and never was mentioned in the hearing in which he entered that plea.
Defense attorneys have failed to identify any individual who made the pledge or offer any tangible evidence of its existence. "The absence of any mention in April 2006 of this alleged promise - - now claimed to be so central to Al-Arian's decision to plead guilty - - is far more consistent with it never having been made than with it simply having slipped the minds of all of the people involved," prosecutors wrote in April 2009.
As we reported one year ago, if Brinkema believed the defense argument – that the prosecution violates an earlier agreement – it's a safe bet that she would have granted the motion. But she hasn't. Yet, she hasn't allowed the government to proceed, either. The case is frozen.
Brinkema's judicial inactivism has allowed Al-Arian to remain on house arrest at one of his children's homes.
Prosecutors tried to force the issue, asking for a new hearing on the pending motion in August. Due to a scheduling conflict, it was set for Oct. 29, records show. No further notices were filed from Sept. 8 until the eve of the hearing. Then, Brinkema canceled it, writing that a hearing was not necessary and that "the Court is working on an opinion which addresses all relevant issues."
Nearly four months have passed since then.
According to the American Bar Association, the judge is like an umpire in baseball: "Like the ump, they call 'em as they see 'em, according to the facts and law—without regard to which side is popular (no home field advantage), without regard to who is "favored," without regard for what the spectators want, and without regard to whether the judge agrees with the law."
How does the judge explain her refusal to make the call?