At a Glance
The jury awarded $4.4 million damages of which 80 percent was for violation of their First Amendment rights to speak out and organize politically in defense of the environment.
Judi Bari, a prominent environmental activist with the group Earth First!
Bari v. Held is a lawsuit that charged the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), former FBI agent-in-charge Richard Held, and the Oakland Police Department with violating Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney’s First Amendment freedoms and their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizures.
Judi Bari, a prominent environmental activist with the group Earth First!, was well known in the ecological movement for bringing together the concerns of environmentalists and labor, which often found themselves on opposing sides in West Coast logging battles. An anti Vietnam War protester, Bari left school and became a union organizer in the mid 1970’s, and then got involved in the environmental movement. She went on to help organize “Redwood Summer,” a program modeled on the Freedom Summer of 1964, in which nonviolent protesters demonstrated against redwood logging practices.
Ms. Bari was driving through Oakland, California on May 24, 1990 with her friend Darryl Cherney when a bomb exploded under her seat. Bari, the driver of the car, was left permanently disabled and nearly died from her wounds, which included a shattered pelvis and lower back.
While Bari was still in the hospital, the FBI and Oakland police arrested her and Cherney and charged them with carrying an explosive device. The police claimed Bari and Cherney had placed the bomb on the floorboard of the back seat, and it had gone off accidentally. Months later, the police dropped the charges after photographs revealed that the epicenter of the explosion had been under Bari’s seat (the back seat was completely intact). The person who placed the bomb has never been found.
Bari died of breast cancer at age 47 on March 2, 1997. Nevertheless, Cherney, who recovered from the injuries he suffered in the bombing, went ahead with the civil damage suit that he and Bari had instituted against the FBI and the Oakland Police Department.
In 1996, the plaintiffs’ attorneys learned of a paid FBI informer whose testimony was being used to justify the arrests. They sought to have the name of the agent revealed, but the presiding judge refused to disclose the information. On October 15, 1997, Judge Claudia Wilken of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed the claims against Mr. Held and two FBI higher-ups, ruling insufficient evidence, but found that the rest of the FBI defendants could be held for trial. The Oakland police defendants filed an interlocutory qualified immunity appeal challenging the district court’s ruling ordering them to stand trial.
The plaintiffs in turn, invoking the Appellate Court’s supervisory jurisdiction, asked the Court to reverse the district court’s decision that the Oakland policemen were not conspirators with the FBI to suppress the political activity of the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs sought to reinstate as defendants Mr. Held and several other supervisors, for their role in the conspiracy.
The Ninth Circuit reversed the trial court and reinstated the plaintiffs’ claims regarding the FBI agents. The case went to trial with Dennis Cunnigham as lead counsel and a well-prepared trial team assisting the efforts. On June 11, 2002, a federal jury returned a stunning verdict in favor of Bari and Cherney. The jury found that six of the seven FBI and Oakland Police defendants framed the two activists. The jury awarded $4.4 million damages of which 80 percent was for violation of their First Amendment rights to speak out and organize politically in defense of the environment.