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Court Dismises White Panther Suit

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Court dismisses White

Panther suit


An appeals court has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit against FBI agents who wiretapped three political activists in Ann Arbor during late 1970 and early 1971 without court permission.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati agreed Tuesday with a lower court ruling that the agents were immune from the lawsuit because legal precedent then didn’t clearly require court permission for wiretaps.

The civil rights suit brought by former White Panther Party/Rainbow Peoples Party leaders John Sinclair, John W. Forrest and Lawrence R. “Pun” Plamondon — which had been one of only two suits still pending against the Nixon-era Justice Department — previously had been dismissed about a half-dozen times but resurrected on appeal.

Attorney Dennis Hayes of Ann Arbor, who is representing the trio along with Hugh M. Davis of Detroit, said this morning they will appeal the decision but haven’t decided yet whether to ask the Cincinnati panel for a rehearing or to take it directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We will not give up on those jerks,” said Hayes, referring to the wiretappers. “We’ve invested too much in trying to shine a light on what the maggots were doing.”

The wiretap was conducted on the White Panther headquarters in Ann Arbor while the three were on trial in Detroit for the Sept. 29, 1968, dynamiting of the Central Intelligence Agency office at 450 S. Main St., Ann Arbor.

The judge in their bombing conspiracy trial ordered the government to turn over transcripts of the unauthorized wiretaps. Rather than disclose the information, the government dismissed the charges.

In 1973, the three men sued the federal government, President Richard Nixon and Justice Department officials.

The men said the wiretaps interfered with their rights to legal representation and to freedom from illegal searches.

FBI agents Kenneth L. Schreiber, James Sullivan and Charles Wagner, who conducted the wiretap surveillance, later were added to the lawsuit. A federal judge dismissed the other defendants on grounds that the president and branches of government are immune to lawsuits.

U.S. District Judge George LaPlata of Ann Arbor dismissed the lawsuit last year, ruling that Sinclair, Plamondon and Forrest failed to present a claim that a court had to decide.

The judge said the three failed to demonstrate how the FBI violated their right to legal representation by eavesdropping.