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Donna Newman, Solo Practitioner, New York and New Jersey [by Regan Morris] The story of alleged “enemy combatant” Jose Padilla has become a symbol of recent battles between the White House and civil liberties advocates. LawCrossing speaks with Padilla’s attorney, Donna Newman, about her high-profile client, her practice as a defense attorney, and her decision to start law school at age 35.

Donna Newman says the plight of her client

Padilla was arrested in May 2002 at

On December 28, the Bush administration

Jose Padilla is a classic example of how the

Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport

asked the Supreme Court to allow Padilla to

Bush administration has abused its power

after returning from Pakistan. At the time,

be transferred from the military brig in South

under the cloak of national security. The sole

then-Attorney General John Ashcroft alleged

Carolina to civilian custody to stand trial.

practitioner from Brooklyn says locking up

Padilla planned to set off a “dirty bomb.” FBI

The request came in response to a ruling the

an American citizen for several years without

agents who followed Padilla from Pakistan

previous week by the U.S. Court of Appeals

charge as an enemy combatant should scare

arrested him on a material witness warrant

for the Fourth Circuit, refusing to allow

all Americans. She equates Padilla’s case

and transferred him to New York. Newman

Padilla to be moved to face charges in Miami.

with the revelation that some American

was appointed by the court to defend Padilla. The appeals court said that by charging

phones had been wiretapped without court Before Newman could challenge the warrant

Padilla in criminal court after holding him

in court, Padilla was named an “enemy

for three-and-a-half years as an enemy

“I think it’s just another example that the

combatant” and handed over to the military.

combatant, the Bush administration gave

executive branch believes that they can take

Padilla was indicted in November 2005,

the appearance of trying to manipulate the

any of our rights and dilute them and then

three-and-a-half years after his initial

court system to prevent the Supreme Court

claim it’s in the interest of national security,”

arrest. Newman believes the timing of the

from hearing the case. The White House

Newman told LawCrossing while slowly

charges was politically motivated to avoid

said the court lacked the authority to defy a

driving across the Brooklyn Bridge during

Supreme Court scrutiny of the case. Padilla

presidential directive and noted that Padilla

the recent transport strike in New York. “I

was charged with membership in a North

himself had requested a transfer to civilian

get really enraged when people say, ‘I don’t

American terrorist-support cell and with


care if they listen, because I want to be safe.’

conspiracy to murder and kidnap.


Newman said she hoped the case would get

You can’t give up your liberties, because it doesn’t make you more safe; it makes you

“He was indicted in Florida, but he has not

its day in Supreme Court. When asked if

less safe.”

been transferred from South Carolina to

she planned to argue Padilla’s case in the

Florida as of yet, not to my knowledge,”

Supreme Court if it came to that, Newman

Newman, who left her practice as a speech

Newman said. “Because the Fourth Circuit

paused. Newman is no longer handling the

pathologist to start law school at age 35,

held up the transfer and asked the parties to

Padilla case alone and has the help of many

said the Bush administration’s actions often

brief on whether or not their decision, which

other attorneys.

remind her of a totalitarian regime.

we are appealing to the Supreme Court, is moot, meaning it’s no longer a case of

“That’s a long way off,” she said of a possible

“When you don’t have your checks and

controversy, since he was indicted on other

Supreme Court argument. “I think it interests

balances, that’s exactly what Stalin did.


every attorney. But every case is different, and you have to weigh what you think is best

Do you think Stalin got on his propaganda approach saying, ‘This is the reason we’re

While Newman is now allowed to visit her

for your client, and sometimes it’s not your

hurting you’?” she said. “And when the

client in the brig, she is not allowed to ask

arguing. You can never let your ego get in the

Third Reich started to arrest civilians, do

him if he has been tortured or other sensitive

way of your client’s needs.”

you think they came out and said, ‘We’re

questions. Not asking certain questions

arresting them because of their religion’?

was part of the deal she made with the

Newman said her past careers as a speech

No. They said, ‘It’s in the interest of national

government, she said.

pathologist and English teacher and her



experience as a mother have helped her

continued on back




1. 800.973.1177

be a better lawyer because she is a trained

own firm made sense because she needed a

rights that I have. My father so appreciated

listener. She graduated from New York

flexible schedule while raising her children.

it. People who were born here sometimes

Law School cum laude in 1986 and was the

don’t understand how important freedom is.

recipient of the Federal Litigation Award. She

“There is a path that you step on each day,

And through my father, who was one of the

also holds a Master’s of Science in education

and you may not know where it’s going to

most brilliant people I have ever known, I

from Brooklyn College of the City University

lead you. And I say, ‘Let go. See where it

appreciate that freedom.”

of New York.

goes,’” she said. “Be open to it. Because if you take life and you bite into it, you get

Newman says there is no reason to give

Newman intended to build a practice in

so much from keeping your eyes open and

up civil liberties in order to feel safe from

medical malpractice to capitalize on her

[being] willing to try new things.”

terror. And she rejects assertions that people

medical background. But during law school,

fighting for civil liberties are not patriotic.

she realized criminal law would be more

The daughter of a Romanian immigrant,


Newman said her father taught her to

“When Mr. Padilla was taken by an executive

appreciate the freedom and rights she had as

order for what I knew to be and has come out

an American.

to be—simply to interrogate him, it reminded

After clerking for several judges and working at a small firm, Newman started her own

me of the Spanish Inquisition,” she said.

practice in 1991 and maintains offices in New

“I’m very patriotic,” she said. “I want my

York and New Jersey. She said starting her

children and my grandchildren to have the


Donna Newman, Solo Practitioner, New York and New Jersey  

Donna Newman is solo practitioner, New York and New Jersey. American citizen for several years without charge as an enemy combatant should s...