Nabeal Twereet
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Cardozo Law Student Benula Bensam Sues Federal Marshals after Getting Booted From Gupta Trial

published August 20, 2012

By Nabeal Twereet Follow Me on Google+
( 39 votes, average: 3.9 out of 5)
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Benula Bensam, who is a law student at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, was tossed out of the Rajat Gupta trial in June because she wrote three letters regarding the federal rules of evidence to presiding Judge Jed Rakoff. The second-year law student was asked to leave Rakoff's courtroom by U.S. Marshals, who questioned the 24-year-old for approximately a half hour. The letters were brought to the attention of the Marshals, who were present at the courthouse. During the testimony of Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein, the Marshals approached Benula and escorted the young woman out of the courtroom, where they accused her of trying to influence the 68-year-old judge.

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According to The Wall Street Journal, Judge Rakoff discussed the letters to the lawyers involved in the case and on several occasions told court officials to tell Benula to stop sending the Judge the letters. Benula stated the letters were about legal theories and had nothing to do with the insider trading trial of former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta. She continued to say she did not favor either side in the trial and wasn't trying to influence Rakoff. The law student proclaimed, “The purpose of the letters was really academic.” She believed the letters were “more like a colloquy.”

What was Benula doing in judge Jed Rakoff's courtroom? The law student had a difficult time finding a summer position at a law firm, so she decided to attend trials around New York, which included Gupta's case. She went to Gupta's trial because there were many contested evidentiary arguments. Cardozo Law Professor Alex Stein, who taught evidence class to Benula, told The Wall Street Journal, “I know she is a very bright student, and she did well in my class. Her passion about evidence compliments me a lot, and I am confident that her letters to Judge Rakoff – a highly accomplished jurist and experienced judge – did no harm and were well intended.”

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The U.S. Marshals did not share the same sentiments as Stein. After Benula's interrogation session with the Marshals, she decided to go home. End of story, right? Not quite. The law student believes the Marshals did not handle the situation well, and according to The New York Observer, Benula “filed a complaint against U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, assistant USAs Reed Brodsky and Richard Tarlowe, the U.S. Marshal Service.” The law suit states that Benula entered the courthouse and checked her cell phone at the door. However, after Benula left the courtroom, the Marshals refused to give her cell phone. The law student is suing over “Unreasonable search and seizure.”

Below is a portion of the complaint, which was released in its entirety by Above the Law:
19. As soon as I stepped out of the door to courtroom 14B and into the hallway, Jane Doe no. 1 became accusatory and confrontational. There were two other U.S. Marshalls in the hall (John Doe no. 1, and Jane Doe no. 2). There was no one else in the halls; court security was seated in the area between the doors to the hallway and the doors to where the trial was ongoing. Jane Doe no. 1 held up a letter and an open envelope that looked to be the envelope I had left with court security officers (CSO) in the morning. My attempts to explain a possible misunderstanding was deliberately manipulated by Jane Doe no. 1. Seeing that Jane Doe no. 1 was being baiting and that my attempts to clarify any misunderstandings would be of no avail, I said that perhaps the police should be called (I still was not fully aware that this was the U.S. Marshalls). Jane Doe no. 1 replied ‘We are the police. We’re the U.S. Marshalls’ or something very close to those words. Coming to this realization, I asserted that I did not need to answer their questions and went to open the door to courtroom14B. As I reached for the door knob with my right hand, I felt the left arm being drawn in the opposite direction. It was Jane Doe no. 1 and she asserted that I can not return unless I answered the questions, that otherwise, I must leave. I replied then that I will leave but that I had to retrieve the things I had left at my seat. I went into the courtroom and returned with my bag.
Although Benula doesn't ask for substantial damages in her complaint, she does give advice to security at the courthouse, who collected her cell phone. The complaint states, “Collection of personal electronic devices should be ordered stopped and other less compromising means may be adopted for ensuring no disruptions in the courtrooms.”

So what was the lesson learned from the courtroom drama? You might be an expert in Professor Stein's evidence class, but when a federal judge presiding over the Gupta case warns you to cease sending letters, no matter how well your intentions might be, you must follow the Judge's orders. Benula said she did not know writing letters was against the rules. After the incident, the law student took down all her blog posts on the Gupta case.

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