A fraud suit against Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations is fast becoming more about the credentials and political leanings of the attorneys involved than about the underlying case.
CAIR, a national Muslim civil liberties organization, is facing several separate cases in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The complaints allege (PDF) that the organization sent individuals seeking legal help to a man who had falsely represented himself as an attorney, and then took steps to cover it up when clients complained.
While CAIR has denied any wrongdoing – the group claims the man was an outside contractor and that they took immediate action after they learned he was a fraud – filings show the case has increasingly become about the behavior and background of attorneys on both sides.
Counsel for the plaintiffs, solo practitioner David Yerushalmi, filed a motion for a protective order (PDF) yesterday afternoon, claiming that CAIR in-house counsel Nadhira Al-Khalili has been using depositions to personally attack Yerushalmi.
“In each deposition, Defendant CAIR’s counsel, Nadhira Al-Khalili, asked Plaintiffs whether they had investigated their attorney before retaining him,” Yerushalmi wrote in the motion. “Al-Khalili then resorted to a patently false public narrative that Defendant CAIR has propagated throughout the Internet that Plaintiffs’ counsel is an Islamophobe, bigot, racist, and misogynist.”
The case has been politically-tinged from the beginning. CAIR, in its motion to dismiss (PDF) the case, accused Yerushalmi of pursuing the fraud cases in an attempt to “take down” the organization. The organization has previously labeled a group Yerushalmi founded, the Society of Americans for National Existence, as a “hate group.”
On the other side, Yerushalmi has referred to allegations unrelated to the underlying case about CAIR’s purported ties to terrorist organizations. In response to admonitions from U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman to keep the case focused on the facts, Yerushalmi claims that he brought those issues up to combat CAIR’s argument that it is a legitimate civil rights group.
Yerushalmi and Al-Khalili did not immediately return a request for comment this morning.