Justice Dept. moves Panthers pursuer to S.C.

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“We cannot understand the rationale for this case’s dismissal and fear that it will confuse the public on how the Department of Justice will respond to claims of voter intimidation or voter suppression in the future,” they wrote.

Earlier this month, Joseph H. Hunt, director of the Justice Department’s Federal Programs Branch, told Mr. Coates and Mr. Adams not to cooperate with the commission’s investigation, citing what he described as “well-established” and “lawful” department guidelines.

Mr. Hunt also said the Civil Rights Commission had no authority to enforce its subpoenas and had the ability only to make referrals to the Justice Department recommending that a criminal case be opened.

His comments, outlined in a letter, were in response to concerns raised by Mr. Adams, who — through his attorney, Jim Miles of Lexington, S.C. — asked whether he would be subject to prosecution if he declined to respond to a commission subpoena.

Mr. Miles said he thought Mr. Adams had a “statutory obligation superior to that imposed by the Department of Justice” and that his refusal to cooperate might subject him to imprisonment or contempt charges.

Mr. Hunt had said there was “no reasonable likelihood of imprisonment” for Mr. Adams because “the Department of Justice itself has instructed your client not to provide any information (either via testimony or documents) to the commission.”

Mr. Miles on Monday said he was surprised by the transfer.

“As it has been explained to me, Mr. Coates was an attorney of great skill, and it is ironic he would be moved out of that position,” Mr. Miles said. “But I assure you his quality of life will be substantially improved by moving to South Carolina out of the Washington Beltway area.”

Mr. Miles said he had no way of knowing whether circumstances would impact his client, but added that he was “amazed” that the Justice Department had “gone to such length, depth and height to torch the disclosure of its decision-making process in this case.”

Career attorneys in the Justice Department’s Voting Rights section had decided as early as Dec. 22, 2008, to seek charges in the New Black Panther Party case.

The decision to dismiss the complaint came from then-Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King after an April 2009 meeting she had with Associate Attorney General Thomas J. Perrelli, the department’s No. 3 political appointee, according to interviews with lawyers familiar with the case.

At the time, the career attorneys wanted the department to seek sanctions in the case because the government already had won a default judgment. They were in the final stages of completing that work when they were told to seek a delay, according to federal records and interviews with lawyers familiar with the case.

The complaint had accused the New Black Panther Party, its chairman, Malik Zulu Shabazz, a D.C. lawyer, Minister King Samir Shabazz, head of the Philadelphia chapter, and Jerry Jackson, a Philadelphia party member. Justice later sought an injunction against Samir Shabazz, who carried the nightstick, barring him from displaying weapons at polling places until 2012.

Party members have not returned numerous telephone messages and e-mails for comment, but told the Associated Press earlier this month in Dallas that the Justice Department was correct in dismissing the complaint. Malik Shabazz described the complaint as a “political witch hunt” aimed at discrediting Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. - the first black man to be named to the post.

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