Buffalo, NY - After a widely watched four-year legal battle, the CAE DefenseFund was officially dissolved last week, with its remainder of unexpendedfunds donated in two substantial gifts to the Center for ConstitutionalRights (CCR) and the New York affiliate of the American Civil LibertiesUnion (NYCLU).
The CAE Defense Fund was originally created as a mechanism to raise fundsfor legal bills incurred by Dr. Steven Kurtz and Dr. Robert Ferrell in whatits members argued was a politically motivated attack by the Department ofJustice--one which threatened the constitutional and fundamental rights notonly of the two defendants, but also of everyone, due to legal precedentsthat would have been set by an unfavorable outcome.
In response, thousands of people worldwide organized demonstrations andraised money for the two men's legal defense through fundraisers and avariety of other grassroots efforts.
The fund was also heavily supported by internationally renowned artistsincluding Sol Lewitt, Richard Serra, Hans Haacke, Cindy Sherman, Carl Andre,Mike Kelley, Kiki Smith, Sam Durant, Mark Dion, Jeremy Deller, and manyothers, who donated work to an auction at Paula Cooper Gallery in April2005. Other artists such as Chuck Close, Walid Raad, and Ed Ruscha madesubstantial direct cash contributions.In all, the Fund raised approximately $350,000.
Drs. Kurtz and Ferrell were indicted for mail and wire fraud in June of2004.Under the USA PATRIOT Act, the maximum sentence for those charges wasincreased from five years to twenty years in jail. After an arduousfour-year-long struggle, in April of 2008 the indictment against Kurtz wasfinally dismissed by Federal Judge Richard J. Arcara as "insufficient on itsface"--meaning that even if the actions alleged in the indictment (which thejudge must accept as "fact") were true, they would not constitute a crime.Ferrell pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in October 2007 afterrecurring bouts of cancer and three strokes suffered during the course ofthe case prevented him from continuing the struggle.
When the case was dismissed instead of going to trial, approximately$108,930 remained in the fund."Had the case gone to a jury trial, that amount wouldn't have been enough tocover Steve's legal bills through the trial, let alone appeals in the eventof a guilty verdict" explained Edmund Cardoni, Executive Director ofHallwalls Contemporary Arts Center in Buffalo NY, and the Fund's fiscaladministrator. "When the case was finally thrown out, we were thrilled, butwe were presented with a new problem.The committee was very conscious of our ethical responsibility to make surethis money would be used in a way that honored the original intent of themany people who gave money to the fund, and the artists who donated artworks to the fundraising auction."
In keeping with that purpose--to defend our fundamental constitutionalrights--the CAE Defense Fund and Trial Fund committees, in consultation withartists, curators, and others centrally involved in the fundraising efforts,voted to disburse the remaining funds by awarding 80 percent ($87,150) tothe CCR, and 20 percent ($21,780) to the NYCLU.
CAE Defense Fund coordinator Lucia Sommer said, "We are extremely happy thatthe case is over, and that the remaining funds can be passed on toorganizations that have such a distinguished record of defending not onlythe U.S. Constitution, but also the human rights and dignity of all people."
Added Kurtz, "I always promised everyone who donated their time, labor andhard-earned money to our defense that this struggle would do more thandemonstrate to the Justice Department that the art, science, academic andactivist communities would not be intimidated by its authoritarian tactics.We knew the legal precedent set by the case was critical to preventing whathappened to Bob and me from happening to others, and it's incrediblyrewarding to know that these funds can now be used to defend others who donot have the kind of support we had."
Representatives of both organizations expressed gratitude for the donations.
"The NYCLU is very pleased to receive this generous contribution from theCAE Legal Defense Fund to continue our work in restoring, defending, andupholding our constitutional and fundamental rights, including artistic andacademic freedoms,"said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil LibertiesUnion.
Vincent Warren, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights,congratulated the CAE Defense Fund "and its many dedicated and principledsupporters for your extraordinary victory--a victory for our country and theConstitution as much as it is for the individuals." He further stated that,"The CCR is honored to use the tremendous support of the Fund's donors tocontinue the fight against repression of dissent and illegaldetentions--work which, unfortunately, is still sorely needed."
For more information about the case, please visit: http://caedefensefund.org