Today (August 28, 2015), U.S. Magistrate Judge David Grand sanctioned the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and ordered it to pay $9,000 in legal fees to the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC), after AFLC successfully “quashed” harassing and burdensome subpoenas issued by CAIR to Ms. Zaba Davis, a private citizen who received the subpoenas because she publicly expressed her opposition to the construction of an Islamic center in her neighborhood.
In 2012, the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor (MCA) requested that Pittsfield Township, Michigan, rezone a parcel of land to build an Islamic School and community center. The Township denied the request, citing infrastructure and traffic concerns. Nevertheless, CAIR, which bills itself as “America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization” but is widely known in government circles as a Muslim Brotherhood front group, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Township on behalf of the MCA, alleging that township officials denied the MCA’s rezoning application out of discrimination against Muslims.
The MCA’s rezoning request was opposed by a group of Township residents who live in the neighborhood of the proposed development. The residents expressed concerns about the traffic congestion that the new construction would cause in their neighborhood. Pursuant to their rights protected by the First Amendment, these private citizens circulated and submitted to their elected Township officials a petition expressing their opposition to the rezoning and several of them spoke out at public hearings held by the Township to discuss the matter.
As a result of the citizens’ involvement, CAIR served harassing subpoenas on a number of these citizens, demanding that they produce private emails and other documents, and in some cases, appear for a deposition. In one instance, Township resident Zaba Davis and her husband came home to find several papers jammed in the crack of the front door of their home. The papers included subpoenas demanding the production of personal emails and other documents and a subpoena commanding Ms. Davis to appear at a deposition.
In response to CAIR’s abusive discovery requests, AFLC, which is representing seven of the targeted private citizens, filed a motion to “quash” and for a protective order against CAIR. The court granted the motion, ruling that the subpoenas violated the First Amendment and caused undue burden. According to the court’s ruling:
[CAIR] contends that its sole interest in deposing Davis stems from a genuine belief that she has what it believes to be relevant information, and not from any personal malice against her for her public opposition to the school. This argument fails for a few reasons. First, . . . the Court finds unpersuasive [CAIR’s] relevance argument. Second, for the reasons noted in the preceding paragraphs, to the extent information possessed by Davis is relevant, that relevance is far outweighed by the chilling effect that allowing the subpoenas would have on speech, not only for Davis, but for all others who wish to be involved in public discourse on matters of public concern.
AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel Robert Muise commented:
“Discovery sanctions in federal court are rare. They are typically reserved for the most egregious violations. CAIR’s conduct in this case, not unlike other cases in which we have litigated against this Muslim Brotherhood organization, almost always meets or exceeds this threshold. Yet, only rarely are CAIR and their minions sanctioned. We applaud the court for its courage and fidelity to the rule of law.”
AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel David Yerushalmi added:
“CAIR claims to be a civil rights organization even as it uses federal subpoenas to terrorize innocent residents into submission. CAIR was born from a jihadi terrorist conspiracy and it has done little to distance itself from those bona fides. It is about time a federal court applied a measured yardstick to sanction CAIR’s abusive conduct in federal litigation.”