Volume 5, Number 27 August 31, 2002
"Snake" run over by truth
By Dr. Ridgely Abdul Mu’min Muhammad
On July 16, 2001 The Farmer Newsletter labeled Al Pires the "‘Snake’ in the Reparations’ Grass" and presented a video tape by that same name to substantiate such an appellation. That article started off by saying, "History rewards all research". We now say that time proves all allegations. The "snake" exposed on July of 2001 has summarily been run over by "truth" as of August of 2002. Now it remains to be seem if the "snake" can recover and sneak back in the "grass". Will his friends come to the rescue? Will the "snake" implicate others or go down by himself?
His friends have already attempted a rescue and Al Pires has already attempted to implicate others to shift blame. His friends came to the rescue on the request of Judge Friedman in May and June of 2001. Judge Friedman first admonished Pires for "negligent handling of the case" which "borders on legal malpractice", then he asked Robert Weiner to issue an emergency call to D.C. lawyers and major law firms to "pick up the slack by pursuing a significant number of the claims on a pro bono basis."
Pires has also shifted blame from himself and his law firm to a set of smaller Black law firms who he initially brought into the case in a subordinate role to help sell the decree to Black farmers. J.L. Chestnut and his firm were not a member of "class counsel" until April 19, 2001 just before the court on April 27th accused Al Pires of conduct bordering on malpractice. Since according to Rose Sanders, Chestnut and Sanders had no part in decision making of class counsel until then, were they brought in specifically to share the blame of malpractice with Al Pires and his law firm?
Black farmers continued to protest the consent decree and finally approached the court to dismiss Al Pires as class counsel. Al Pires then responded to the motion to dismiss him by again implicating Rose Sanders and J.L Chestnut in lead counsel’s failure to meet critical deadlines. However, on August 9, 2002 Rose Sanders of Chestnut, Sanders, Sanders, Pettaway, Campbell, & Albright requested the court to file a "Response to the Response of Colon, Frantz, Phelan and Pires’ Motion to Remove Lead Class Counsel and Request for Emergency Hearing".
In her response she stated, "Mr. Pires has knowingly misstated the truth. The law firm of Chestnut, Sanders, Sanders, Pettaway, Campbell & Albright never missed a deadline in a Track B case." She goes on to state that, "We have been challenged by the dual standards employed by Mr. Pires, some arbitrators, and others in this historic litigations." Further, "Mr. Pires has made decisions and agreements with the government without consulting the undersigned attorney (Rose Sanders) and Mr. Chestnut."
So it seems that the Black law firms got a taste of institutional racism in the justice system the way the Black farmers had suffered for years with the USDA. It also seems that these Black firms were betrayed by Al Pires, the same as Black farmers were betrayed. But now we must ask the even tougher questions concerning the integrity of the federal court itself and specifically, Judge Paul Friedman. For this judge knew that the farmers did not want this consent decree, yet he signed it.
Over 300 farmers came to the Fairness Hearing in March of 1999 to voice very specific objections to the consent decree. Judge Friedman even agreed with the changes that the farmers demanded, however Al Pires did not want to change one line. Judge Friedman signed this decree knowing that it was defective and said in the decree itself that Black farmers would probably never get justice in a court of law and that it was their sticking together and pricking the conscious of Congress that got them this far. It seems that the "court" that he was referring to was his own.
Black farmers in desperation not only filed legal papers against Al Pires but took over a USDA office in Brownsville, Tenn. on July 1, 2002 for continuing discrimination by the same USDA personnel implicated in the law suit. This activity forced the press to finally recognize the cries of the Black farmers. An August 13, 2002 article by the Washington Post pointed out issues that Black farmers had complained about since 1999. For instance in this settlement their was no "pot of cash for plaintiffs to divide, as is the norm in class-action cases. In fact, no one won any money automatically. Each farmer still had to prove he had been personally discriminated against." But these farmers were forced to prove discrimination without access to white farmers’ records who got loans when they did not.
According to this article, "Friedman repeatedly extended deadlines for farmers, but his patience evaporated when Pires once told him, after missing another court-imposed deadline, that he had never intended to meet it... Some farmers are now circulating a mock "Wanted" poster, describing Pires as a "snake in the reparations grass."
The question now becomes should "snake" be plural and include the federal court? How can we consider Judge Friedman innocent when it took him a year to put a monitor in place? The consent decree was signed in April of 1999. Yet Randi Roth was not selected and put in as monitor until April of 2000 after over 40% of the claimants had been denied. These claimants were then expected to prepare their appeals to a non-existent monitor and then there appeals were subsequently thrown out because they were not filed in time.
Now this same Al Pires is brokering a reparations deal on behalf of Black people in general with the federal court. I wonder if Friedman will be the presiding Judge. The farmers had hoped that the pronunciation of "Friedman" as "Freed-man" was in accord with what they might receive in his court instead of being "fried".
The real surprise over these four years is not how "snakes" operate, but the resilience in the fortitude of the bitten. The "system" did not expect these poor farmers to continue the struggle on both the legal and public opinion arenas. Truth may now finally become the "crusher" instead of being crushed to the ground.
Go to www.MuhammadFarms.com and click on "The Farmer Newsletter" to read past articles on the struggle of Black farmers and get a chronological background on events leading us to this juncture and these hard questions. Maybe a congressional hearing is in order to determine the depths of this conspiracy to deny Black farmers justice and seize their land.