Malik Zulu Shabazz, chairman of the New Black Panther Party, has lost his bid to recover $2,500 in attorney fees stemming from a federal investigation into the group's activities during the 2008 presidential election.
A federal magistrate judge issued an order Friday denying Shabazz's request for fees.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights subpoenaed Shabazz to testify two years ago in a now-closed inquiry into how the U.S. Department of Justice responded to allegations that two men affiliated with the party made threatening comments and gestures to voters at a Philadelphia polling place in 2008.
In April 2010, the commission – an independent, bipartisan body appointed by Congress and the president – filed a petition in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to enforce the subpoena after Shabazz failed to respond or appear for the deposition.
Shabazz, an attorney and member of the D.C. Bar since 1998, fought back, claiming he never received the subpoena. The process server had filed an affidavit saying he delivered the subpoena to a 5-foot-10-inch, 170-pound man who identified himself as Shabazz.
Shabazz, represented by Washington solo practitioner Gregory Lattimer, challenged the petition, saying there was no way the person who received the subpoena was Shabazz, who Lattimer said is 6 feet 5 inches and 230 pounds.
He also rejected the substance of the subpoena, accusing the commission of engaging in a “political witch hunt.” Shabazz asked for attorney fees as a form of sanctions against the government.
The government had argued that it made good faith efforts to serve Shabazz, and made other attempts to reach him besides relying on a process server. Assistant U.S. Attorney Marina Braswell represented the commission, which ultimately withdrew its petition to enforce the subpoena and completed its investigation without Shabazz’s input.
U.S. District Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson met with the parties last April. In a minute order issued Friday, she found that “no authority authorizes the award of attorney’s fees” in Shabazz’s case. Robinson did not explain her decision further.
Lattimer and a commission spokesperson were not immediately available for comment Monday. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, Matthew Jones, declined to comment.