Haase v. Webster – Government Misconduct – CCR Docket 1986-1987

Returning from Nicaragua in January 1985, Edward Haase, a Kansas City-based journalist, was stopped by United States Customs and FBI officials and detained for five hours, as agents read, seized, and pho­ to copied his address book, notes, diary and other personal papers. These actions were taken under the  purported authority of 19 U.S.C. 1305, a statute which permits cus­toms, but not the FBI, to seize materials that are “likely and intended to produce imminent lawless action.”

CCR attorneys filed a lawsuit challenging the seizure and demanding that the FBI return the photocopied materials. The suit charged that the seizure violated the free speech and association provisions of the First Amendment to the Constitution and the search and seizure safeguards of the Fourth Amendment. It charged that customs and the FBI follow a policy of abus­ing customs authority to harass and/or gather intelligence from U.S. citizens returning from Nicaragua.

The court granted Haase’s request for a temporary restraining order, and ordered the papers returned. It refused, however, to allow Haase to cross-examine FBI agents about their dissemination of the materials. The court also refused to allow him to chal­lenge the incident as a policy, or even to seek any information about it in discovery. The court concluded the incident was iso­lated and unlikely to recur. An appeal is pending.

David Cole, Michael Ratner; Margaret Ratner, with CCR cooperating attorney John J. Privitera