The feud between a prominent activist attorney and the University of Minnesota appeared resolved in April when the Minneapolis City Attorney’s office dropped the charges against him in connection with a pro-Palestinian protest last fall.
Not to be.
The lawyer, Jordan Kushner, has now sued the U, contending his constitutional rights were violated and he was unnecessarily manhandled by three U cops.
“I can’t sit back and allow for a wrong to be committed,” Kushner said. “And if I don’t fight for myself, how can I look my clients in the eye and tell them I am going to fight for them?”
Fighting police departments who arrest protesters is a big portion of Kushner’s resume — and he’s gained a reputation as a bulldog.
“He’s very aggressive within the bounds that the law permits,” said civil rights lawyer Larry Leventhal. “He won’t let anything slip by.”
While Leventhal supports Kushner’s decision to sue, he said winning is no slam dunk. Police have broad immunity, he said, and Kushner must show they had no probable cause to arrest him.
Kushner was arrested Nov. 3 in Mondale Hall at the U law school when protesters tried to disrupt a speech by Moshe Halbertal, an Israeli lawyer and academic.
Halbertal was lecturing on ethical conduct by Israeli soldiers, while activists claimed he was an apologist for what they view as the brutal military occupation of Palestinian territories.
Kushner said he agreed with the critique of Halbertal but opposed the disruption tactic.
Nonetheless, when protesters began to stand up and shout as the program began, he said he became a legal observer, taking video on his cellphone as police escorted disrupters from the hall.
When one cop ordered someone nearby to leave, Kushner piped up that she’d done nothing wrong. He was told by a U official to stop taking video. Eventually he quit, but police still ordered him out of the hall. When he objected, they escorted him out and arrested him. The police say Kushner yelled at officers and resisted, which he denies. He was charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing the legal process.
‘Double standard on free speech’
After planning to take Kushner to trial, the city attorney’s office reversed course in April and dropped the misdemeanor charges. City Attorney Susan Segal said at the time she wanted to “allow my office to focus on higher priority matters,” adding, “the evidence supports the charges.” The facts haven’t changed, she said.
Kushner says Segal never had a case and her explanation for dismissing charges was “cowardly.”
In response to the lawsuit, Tim Pramas, a lawyer in the U’s Office of the General Counsel, argues that the arrests were justified and that dismissing charges “is a separate matter under Minnesota law.”
Besides his arrest, Kushner was issued a trespass notice barring him from Mondale Hall and the U’s West Bank campus for a year. Pressed by Kushner, the U lifted its West Bank ban but left the Mondale Hall prohibition in place. Kushner has asked U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson for a preliminary injunction to lift that ban. He wants the trespass notice rescinded in part because he’s been invited to speak at Mondale Hall this month. The topic? “The university’s double standard on free speech and suppressing dissent,” Kushner says.
Pramas said the U “is reviewing Kushner’s request to be present at Mondale Hall before the trespass notice expires.