September 29, 2011 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Choi court brief compares Obama to Nixon

A 59-page legal brief filed in defense of gay former Army Lt. Dan Choi cites the Nixon Watergate scandal and suggests that President Obama played a role in a decision to “illegally” prosecute Choi under a harsher than usual federal law following his arrest last November for chaining himself to the White House fence.

The brief filed Sept. 20 by Choi’s attorney, Robert Feldman, calls on U.S. District Court Chief Judge Royce Lamberth to deny a Petition for Writ of Mandamus by prosecutors. The petition asks the court to prohibit Choi from arguing in his ongoing trial that the government waged a “selective/vindictive” prosecution against him. The trial was suspended for at least 10 days while Lamberth deliberates over the Writ of Mandamus petition.

Choi and 12 other protesters were arrested Nov. 15, 2010 for refusing to obey a “legal order” by U.S. Park Police to disperse from the White House fence during a protest against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. The others agreed to plead guilty in exchange for the government’s promise to dismiss the case against them if they didn’t get arrested for a period of four months.

“Even more damaging, evidence was exposed during Lt. Choi’s criminal trial indicating that the paper trail of this government persecution of Lt. Choi led – like the Watergate tapes snaked their way back to President Nixon – directly to President Obama himself, who was/is not only personally opposed to gay equality, but was, as the self-described legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., deeply humiliated by being criticized by Lt. Choi and others for enforcing discriminatory laws (like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) against gay Americans,” Feldman states in his brief.

Feldman has argued that a chain of e-mails between former gay White House aide Brian Bond; the U.S. Park Police, who arrested Choi at the protest; and the Secret Service indicates that the White House may have been involved in orchestrating the prosecution. But no evidence has surfaced to show Obama was aware of the e-mails, and prosecutors say the charging decision was a legitimate, legal action made by Park Police.

A spokesperson said the White House doesn’t comment on pending court cases.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela George, the lead prosecutor in the case, has called on Lamberth to overrule an opinion by Magistrate Judge John Facciola, who is presiding over Choi’s trial. George argues in the Petition for Writ of Mandamus that Facciola improperly issued a preliminary finding that Choi presented sufficient evidence indicating a “selective” or “vindictive” prosecution may have occurred.

“It is well within the broad discretion afforded the prosecutor to bring any charge for which probable cause exists against a person who has three times in nine months engaged in the same illegal conduct,” George states in her court petition.

She was referring to Choi’s two prior arrests in 2010 for handcuffing himself to the White House fence during separate protests against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Feldman has argued that Choi was exercising his First Amendment right to peaceably protest against the government in all three cases and that the arrests were illegal because they violated his constitutional rights.

Lamberth was expected to rule on whether or not Choi can continue to use a “selective” or “vindictive” prosecution defense within the next week or two.

In a related development, two of the other activists arrested with Choi last November who accepted the plea agreement in May filed petitions in court last week asking a judge to allow them to withdraw their guilty pleas and to take their case to trial. An attorney representing arrestees Miriam Ben-Shalom and Ian Finkenbinder said evidence of a selective or vindictive prosecution that surfaced in Choi’s trial prompted them to determine that they should not have agreed to the guilty plea. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay, who presides over their case, is expected to decide on the matter after prosecutors file a response to their request to withdraw the guilty pleas.

 

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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