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Abrams discusses Assange, spy law

WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange could face legal problems under U.S. espionage law, according to Floyd Abrams, widely considered the nation's top First Amendment lawyer.

Abrams, keynote speaker at Thursday's Law Day luncheon of the Bar Association of Erie County, said that although he has a dim view of WikiLeaks' standing as a journalistic organization, it has "played a valuable role" in revealing the actual casualty count of the Iraq War as well as threats posed by posed by Guantanamo Bay inmates.

But Abrams, who successfully defended the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case, noted that WikiLeaks' disclosures also have had negative effects, including endangering U.S. ambassadors.

Assange's real legal peril, Abrams said, involves "very uncertain" protections under the nation's 1917 espionage law, which has yet to be fully tested on acts considered injurious to U.S. interests.

Abrams, who was invited to address the Law Day event by Buffalo lawyer Wayne D. Wisbaum, his Cornell classmate, told the gathering in the Hyatt Regency Buffalo that he lived in the Hyatt for six weeks while handling a Niagara Falls libel case 15 years ago.

During the luncheon, the Bar Association honored the Mock Trial team from Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart, which recently won the 30th annual Mock Trial Competition for local high schools. The Sacred Heart team competes Saturday in Mayville in the Western Regional round sponsored by the State Bar Association.

Poster contest awards for grade-school students were handed out to Vincent Ricotta and Priya Bommaraju of St. Stephen School, Angelina Meranto of St. Francis of Assisi, Sarah Ramsey and Joshua Pohlman of West Seneca West and Josh Wilde of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The high school poster award went to Mallory Sacher and Jake Ehlert of Potter Career & Technical Center and Aleena Jafri of City Honors.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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