Good morning from New York.
There is another hearing this morning in the 9/11 litigation against Saudi Arabia, rescheduled for today following technical problems last week due to massive interest in the case from victim family members and press.
Covering live, @CourthouseNews.
The teleconference is about to begin, as the attorneys connect via video and the public over the phone.
Since the last hearing, the FBI inadvertently released the name of a Saudi official suspected of directing support for the hijackers, per Yahoo.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn reminds the lawyers that they are subject to a protective order.
Attorney Steven Pounian of Kreindler & Kreindler is here representing the 9/11 families.
More tech problems.
Judge Netburn can't hear him, and we pause for IT to respond.
A sophisticated hack by Judge Netburn resolves the problem:
She says she shut down her computer and switched it back on, allowing her to hear the counsel.
Judge Netburn: "My intention is to jump right in, pick up where we left off."
Long hearing ahead. She anticipates taking a break after the first hour of argument.
Saudi Arabia claimed diplomatic immunity over 11 people during discovery.
Judge Netburn is pressing counsel for the 9/11 families about the case law to clear that burden.
Sean P. Carter, another attorney for the 9/11 families, says that the kingdom initially signaled broader cooperation with discovery before asserting that witnesses should be immunized.
He argues that Saudi Arabia should request certification with the State Dept.
Saudi Arabia's attorney Michael Kellogg says that there is no question that nine of the 11 were legitimate diplomats at the time, listed by the State Dept.'s Department of Protocol.
The other two were ambassadors from another location.
An attorney for the 9/11 families claims that Saudi Arabia used diplomatic immunity to get former consular official Fahad al-Thumairy, allegedly tied to the hijackers, out of the country.
"If it was anyone else, he would be in jail write now," the attorney said.
Saudi Arabia's counsel Michael Kellogg denies that claim, stating that al-Thumairy came back to the United States after the attacks, tried to reenter and was told his diplomatic visa had been revoked.
After 90 minutes of arguments, there is now a brief recess.
Judge Netburn adjourns for five minutes.
The 9/11 families attorney Steven Pounian returns to the subject of Thumairy.
His co-counsel Sean Carter framed the diplomatic immunity theory this way:
If the kingdom's claim of its breadth carries the day, "states could simply organize terrorist attacks using their diplomatic and consular facilities," Carter says.
Later in the hearing, Judge Netburn called the diplomatic immunity question "very complicated," much like the U.S. domestic question of qualified immunity.
For example, Pounian said that they are seeking information from Saudi Arabia's former embassy chief of staff Ahmed Qattan, a potential witness.
Kellogg, the kingdom's lawyer, says it's "hard to suggest" that they're not looking into Qattan's official functions.
There is "no dispute" about the Vienna Convention implications, Kellogg says.
Saudi Arabia's attorney Michael Kellogg says there is nothing in the record, "other than plain speculation," to suggest that the diplomats being sought as witnesses were engaged in illegal activities to assist the hijackers.
Oral arguments have pivoted to an arcane dispute of the court's power to issue letters rogatory (a legal assistance request to a foreign judiciary) to ask Saudi Arabia to compel testimony by the kingdom's private citizens.
The kingdom's lawyer Michael Kellogg said that compeling Saudi citizens to testify as witnesses in the litigation would be a "lawless" order.
Kellogg sums up the argument: "You’re a totalitarian regime. Just force them."
The 9/11 families' attorney Sean Carter says that's not what he's arguing.
Modern states do this all the time, Carter says.
The final hurdle for the 9/11 families at this stage of discovery proceedings:
Saudi Arabia asserts privilege over current and former high-ranking officials.
The families' attorney Sean Carter says they are relevant witnesses for their case.
Two witnesses the families seek: Prince Abdulaziz and Minister Abdullatif Al-Sheikh
Al-Sheikh, who led the kingdom's Ministry of Islamic Affairs, is sought for info on the office's dealings with Thumairy.
"He was aware of Thumairy. There is no question about that," Carter says.
After nearly five hours of teleconference, Judge Netburn adjourns the proceedings, vowing to issue rulings on the issues as quickly as possible.
My write-up of today’s lengthy proceedings in the 9/11 litigation against Saudi Arabia.
You can follow @KlasfeldReports.
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