U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina, in an order Friday afternoon, restored a prior order that assures that lawyers will continue to have access to detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by keeping their court challenges to detention intact for the time being. Acting in 14 cases that involve perhaps 40 detainees, the judge withdrew his Sept. 20 dismissal of those cases, saying the withdrawal was necessary to maintain the status quo.  The order in Al-Oshan v. Bush (05-520) and 13 other cases can be found here.

“This court expresses no small concern over the Department of Justice precipitously disrupting petitioners’ access to their counsel,” the judge commented in a footnote.  Quoting one of his District Court colleagues from another detainee case, Judge Urbina said that the Supreme Court’s agreement to consider the legal rights of detainees in its current Term, coupled with the D.C. Circuit Court’s withdrawal of a mandate in those detainee cases finding no federal jurisdiction for Guantanamo habeas claims, “cast a deep shadow of uncertainty” over the Circuit Court ruling. (District Judge Gladys Kessler made that remark on Tuesday in Ruzatullah v. Gates, District Court docket 06-1707).

When Judge Urbina dismissed the cases in his Court last month, he concluded that the D.C. Circuit had nullified District Court jurisdiction over detainees’ pending habeas cases.

Responding to detainees’ pleas to reconsider the dismissal and to put back into effect the prior order on lawyers’ access to their detainee clients, and over the Justice Department’s objection, the judge said on Friday that “the appropriate course of action is to vacate its dismissal and stay” all of the cases. That, he said, maintains the status quo, aligns him with District Court colleagues, and “harmonizes” the jurisdictional relationship between the Circuit Court and the District Courts in Washington.

The judge stayed all of the cases, and ruled that, while the stay is in effect, “the protective orders and counsel access rules remain in effect.”

The order’s sharp comment about the Justice Department’s “disruption” of lawyer-client access was a response to the Department’s argument, in court papers and to detainees’ lawyers, that Judge Urbina’s dismissal of the 14 cases meant that the protective orders were no longer in effect.

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