Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wesley Snipes Retains Linda Moreno

Snipes adds Al-Arian attorney

Linda Moreno has had success in high-profile cases.

By KEVIN GRAHAM, Times Staff Writer
Published December 5, 2007


[Ken Helle | Times (2006)]

Linda Moreno has joined actor Wesley Snipes' defense. Moreno also served as Sami Al-Arian's defense lawyer.

TAMPA - Linda Moreno, the lawyer who represented Sami Al-Arian at his terrorism-related trial, has joined the defense team for actor Wesley Snipes.

She announced her involvement in federal court records Monday, the same day another Snipes' attorney cited more than 1.6-million pages of recently received documents in a request to delay his January tax evasion trial in Ocala.

Moreno declined Tuesday to discuss the case, deferring questions to Snipes' lead attorneys, who did not return a call for comment.

She has had success in a couple of high-profile cases.

At Al-Arian's 2005 trial, jurors acquitted him or deadlocked on all charges of conspiracy to support terrorism. He later pleaded guilty to helping associates of a terrorist group with nonviolent activities and received a 57-month sentence.

This year, Moreno took on another terrorism trial by representing Ghassan Elashi, former chairman of the board for Holy Land Foundation. In what was called the biggest terrorism-financing trial since the Sept. 11 attacks, prosecutors accused him of funneling $12-million to Palestinian groups in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that they said were fronts for the terrorist group Hamas.

A Dallas federal judge declared a mistrial in October after jurors failed to reach a verdict.

In seeking to delay Snipes' trial, defense attorney Robert E. Barnes said in his motion that defense attorneys recently received more than 1.6-million pages of records. One of the two co-defendants never received the documents, Barnes said.

Barnes said Snipes' former legal team, which Snipes fired, never gave the records to his new attorneys. In court papers he also said that federal prosecutors were uncooperative in reproducing the documents.

Snipes' trial is set to begin Jan. 7. His attorneys want it delayed until at least April 21.

The Blade and White Men Can't Jump star surrendered to federal authorities in December on charges that he defrauded the Internal Revenue Service of more than $11-million in taxes.

A federal judge has set a hearing in Ocala on Dec. 11 for lawyers on both sides to discuss any pending pretrial motions.

Kevin Graham can be reached at or 813 226-3433.

[Last modified December 5, 2007, 00:20:56]

Friday, November 16, 2007

Linda Moreno to Speak at Washington Premiere of Al-Arian Film

Attorney Linda Moreno to speak on panel at the Washington Premiere of the multi-awarded documentary film about controversial “terrorism-trial” to be screened in Washington DC with panel discussion after the film.

WHAT: Panel after screening of Washington Premiere of USA vs Al-Arian
WHEN: December 5, 2007, 7:00pm
WHERE: AMC/Lowes Theatre

The panel discussion after the screening includes:
David Cole, Professor of Law, Georgetown University.
Linda Moreno, Trial Attorney, USA vs Al-Arian.
Ron, Juror, USA vs Al-Arian Trial.
Abdullah Al-Arian, Son of Sami Al-Arian.
Line Halvorsen, director of "USA vs Al-Arian".

“USA vs Al-Arian” is a disturbing film on freedom of speech in post 9/11 America and political persecution. The flm follows the arrest and trial of Sami Al-Arian, an Arab-American university professor accused of supporting a terrorist organization abroad. For two and a half years Dr. Al-Arian was held in solitary confinement, denied basic privileges and given limited access to his attorneys. The film is an intimate family portrait documenting how a tight-knit family unravels before our very eyes as trial preparations, strategy and spin consume their lives. Norwegian director Line Halvorsen has made a damning portrait of the case focusing on the trial’s emotional toll. This is a nightmare come to life, as a man is prosecuted for his beliefs rather than his actions. Buy tickets here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Trial ends in confusion

Three jurors dispute the acquittals in a terrorism-funding case.

Published October 23, 2007

DALLAS - The biggest terror-financing trial since the Sept. 11 attacks ended in confusion Monday, with no one convicted and many acquittals thrown out after three jurors took the rare step of disputing the verdict.

Prosecutors said they would probably retry leaders of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, as well as the organization itself, which the federal government shut down in December 2001. They were accused of funneling millions to Hamas, which has carried out suicide bombings in Israel and was designated a terrorist group in 1995, making financial transactions with it illegal.

Outside the courthouse, jubilant family members and supporters hoisted defendant and Holy Land chief executive Shukri Abu Baker on their shoulders and cried, "God is great!"

After two months of testimony and 19 days of deliberations, the jury reached verdicts for only one of the five defendants, finding former Holy Land chairman Mohammed El-Mezain not guilty of 31 of 32 counts and deadlocking on the remaining charge.

Acquittals for two other defendants, Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh, were read in court. But when the judge polled each juror - normally a formality - things turned chaotic, as three jurors said they disagreed with the verdicts.

U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish sent the jury back to resolve the differences, but after about an hour he said he received a note from the jury saying 11 of the 12 thought further deliberations would not lead them to reach a unanimous decision. Then he declared a mistrial.

The jury forewoman said none of the jurors raised objections to the verdicts in the jury room.

Juror William Neal said the panel found little evidence against three of the defendants and was evenly split on charges against Baker and former Holy Land chairman Ghassan Elashi, who were seen as the principal leaders of the charity. Elashi was represented by Tampa lawyer Linda Moreno, who represented former University of South Florida Sami Al-Arian at his terrorism trial.

"I thought they were not guilty across the board," said Neal, a 33-year-old art director from Dallas. The case "was strung together with macaroni noodles. There was so little evidence."

President Bush personally announced the seizure of Holy Land's assets in December 2001, calling the action "another step in the war on terrorism."

Holy Land's lawyers say the group helped children and families left homeless or poor by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Lead prosecutor James Jacks said in court that he expected the government to try the case again, but he could not elaborate because of a gag order.

"This is a stunning setback for the government," said a former U.S. attorney, Matthew Orwig.

Holy Land was founded in California in the late 1980s and moved to the Dallas area in 1992. The case followed terror-financing trials in Chicago and Florida that also ended without convictions on the major counts.

The government "failed in Chicago, it failed in Florida, it failed in Texas," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, one of dozens of Muslim groups named as unindicted co-conspirators. "The reason it failed is the government does not have the facts; it has fear."

Friday, October 28, 2005

5-month prosecution, 8 words for defense

October 28, 2005
St. Petersburg Times / Meg Laughlin

TAMPA - As the prosecution rested Thursday in the trial of Sami Al-Arian, his attorney, Bill Moffitt, stood up to begin the defense.

Or so those in the courtroom thought.

Moffitt stunned the room: "On behalf of Dr. Al-Arian, the defense rests."

Prosecutors quietly voiced surprise. Journalists rushed out to file stories. After five months of prosecutorial evidence, there would be no defense witnesses, no testimony for Al-Arian.

During a break, Moffitt explained: "Because there is a document called the U.S. Constitution - unless we're about to repeal it - it protects Dr. Al-Arian's right to speak, and the government has not proven that Dr. Al-Arian has done anything but speak. ... The fact that Dr. Al-Arian is a Palestinian deprives him of no civil rights."

Later, Moffitt's hand was strengthened by a decision from the presiding judge about what the jury would be told about rights of free association.

A former USF professor, Al-Arian and co-defendants Sameeh Hammoudeh, Hatem Fariz and Ghassan Ballut are accused of using Islamic charities as fronts in a conspiracy to finance terrorist attacks by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The organization has claimed responsibility for killing hundreds of people in Israel and the occupied territories.

Two of the co-defendants, Hammoudeh and Fariz, plan to put on witnesses in defense next week. That is expected to take about two weeks.

"It will be our job to humanize the defendants for the jury," said Kevin Beck, one of Fariz's three attorneys.

Attorneys reacting to the defense team's decision agreed it was a good call. Several former federal prosecutors, turned defense attorneys, said that sometimes the best defense is established through government witnesses.

"The defense has already been established during cross-examination," said Tampa attorney John Fitzgibbons.

"That can be a very good defense strategy," said Miami defense attorney Neal Sonnett. "The burden is the government's and the burden never shifts."

Sometimes a defense lawyer can make all the points he needs while the prosecution is putting on its case, he said. "Cross-examination can sometimes be more enlightening than direct examination."

And so, with the exception of closing argument, no words will be offered in Al-Arian's defense, except for jury instructions.

At the end of the day Thursday, U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr. agreed with Al-Arian's defense attorneys that a paragraph, crucial to their reliance on the First Amendment, should be included in the general jury instructions.

It deals with the most serious charges against Al-Arian - that he conspired to provide material support for the violent activities of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Israel and the occupied territories.

The judge said jurors would be told they could decide it is not a crime to participate in the legal activities of an organization such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, even if that organization carries out criminal activities.

This explanation is of vital importance to Al-Arian's defense because his attorneys have repeatedly said that he aided the legal activities, the charitable and political work of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, not the violent work.

Prosecutor Cherie Krigsman argued that "this exquisite division of labor" in the Palestinian group, which defense attorneys keep pointing out, is a ruse.

She said it didn't matter if defendants supported the charitable or political arm of the group because "the PIJ had murder as its primary goal."

Krigsman also said that even if defendants supported Palestinian Islamic Jihad charities they were still guilty of criminal activity because the charities "were a way of winning the hearts and minds of the people as part of the PIJ terrorist strategy."

Moffitt said that prosecutors were going to argue that association with the the group and advocacy made Al-Arian guilty, because they had nothing else.

"They can't argue acts because they have no acts. All of his actions were nonviolent," said Moffitt.

Moody responded dryly: "We're working on jury instructions, not your closing argument."

Eventually, though, the federal judge agreed to insert a paragraph in the jury instructions that draws a line between the legal and illegal activity of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

It begins: "Our law does not criminalize the mere membership in an organization of a person who is in sympathy with the legitimate arm of the organization."

Linda Moreno, Al-Arian's co-counsel, said later that this addition was "very important" to Al-Arian's defense because "it means the government has to show more than Dr. Al-Arian's association with Palestinian Islamic Jihad."

Moreno concluded, "This instruction goes to the heart of our theory of defense."