Jordan Kushner shouldn't be in this column. The Minneapolis attorney has handled hundreds of cases over two dozen years. He would never advise a client to go on-record about a pending court case.
But he thinks he has no choice.
Kushner was arrested November 3 during a lecture by a controversial Israeli academic at the University of Minnesota. Critics of Moshe Halbertal say that, under his advice, Israeli Defense Forces justify bombing civilian areas.
Kushner just went to watch. But when antiwar protesters started getting dragged out by campus cops, instinct kicked in, and he started filming.
According to police, Kushner asked why the cops were removing someone who didn't seem too disruptive. A cop wheeled, telling the lawyer he was now disrupting. Kushner "started to argue with [the cop] about free speech and his rights," says the police report.
So Kushner was dragged out and booked for disorderly conduct and trespassing. He spent about nine hours in jail.
Kushner has been arrested before for the same offense: observing and sometimes recording police. He assumed this case, like those, would soon go away.
Just days after a preliminary hearing, the most high-profile case of Kushner's career fell in his lap. Black Lives Matter was going to protest at the Mall of America two days before Christmas. Bloomington filed an injunction to block them from even getting to the mall. Kushner won in court, and the protest went on.
"At that point," Kushner says, "I had totally forgotten about my bullshit case."
Minneapolis had not. Kushner tried to get the case to go away just before New Year's. He called the prosecutor. She had been so friendly when they met in court. Maybe he could reason with her.
After all, he had videotape of the event. He had witnesses. One's an honest-to-God American hero. Colleen Rowley, the FBI agent-turned-whistleblower, went public after September 11, saying the agency had ignored warnings from its Minneapolis bureau that bad men had wicked plans.
Rowley happened to be sitting in front of Kushner during the speech. She says Kushner, an acquaintance, was "arguing" with cops, but not much more.
"I did not see Jordan Kushner do anything untoward," says Rowley. "No yelling, no swinging his arms."
But the city attorney was not interested, Kushner says. They would see each other in court.
In fact, Kushner would see a lot more than just her. On the day of his hearing, seven other city prosecutors turned up just to watch the proceedings. Kushner, who's handled far more complex cases — in his first big case, he defended accused cop-killers — had never seen anything like it.
This bullshit case has only grown bigger. The city's added a third charge, for resisting arrest, and a second attorney to its prosecution team. Kushner's scheduled to go to trial July 11.
Why? Attorneys don't have to prove motive to win, but Kushner is prepared to offer one.
In 2014, when City Attorney Susan Segal was up for reappointment, the state chapter of the National Lawyers Guild issued a withering criticism of her. The group argued that Segal had erred badly, and screwed the public, with an opinion finding that Minneapolis needn't ask for voter approval of its $150 million contribution to the Minnesota Vikings stadium. It allowed the City Council to spend taxpayer money without asking the taxpayers themselves.
The first signature on the letter slamming Segal was Jordan Kushner's. Could this be her revenge?
No way, says the city. Segal declined to be interviewed, but a written statement from the office said Kushner had been offered the "same reasonable settlement" fellow protesters had already accepted.
"We are treating this case no differently than other matters," reads the statement, adding that Kushner has yet to share video evidence he believes will exonerate him. (Pssst: Try him on his office line. He picks up his phone.)
A fellow attorney says Kushner "can be annoying." That's what makes him a good lawyer. He's thorough, exacting, and blunt. He takes clients you wouldn't like, like the guy who rode around drunk on his Segway, or the one who called his co-worker a "stupid bitch" on Facebook, or people who want to interrupt shopping season at the commerce capital of the world. He often wins.
But bothering public employees, making them uncomfortable when they're arresting someone or getting reappointed to office, is not a crime.
Forget free speech, police conduct, and revenge plots for a moment. You should be pissed off about this case if you pay taxes in Minneapolis. The least the city attorney could do is stop spending our money prosecuting a case with so little meat on its bones.
Jordan Kushner's cases often cut to the core of what it means to be an American, even an angry or unlikable one. They can be divisive. But not this one.
More from Mike Mullen:
The drinking straw is the most wasteful product in America
When Black Lives Didn't Matter
Friendship comes at a price for the new Seward Co-op