ADL offers to help San Quentin guard with lawsuit

The Anti-Defamation League offered help last week to Alan Ashenfarb, a San Quentin prison guard who has filed federal charges of anti-Semitism against the California Department of Corrections and the state prison.

ADL representatives, Ashenfarb and his attorney, Stanley Hilton, convened in San Francisco on Oct. 3 for a conference call with Los Angeles ADL representatives.

According to Ashenfarb, the ADL's offer included: negotiation settlement when necessary, legal assistance if needed, access to ADL files on related lawsuits and professional counseling.

"They offered quite a bit and were extremely receptive," said Ashenfarb. "It went much better than I expected."

Ashenfarb said he began seeking the ADL's support soon after filing his suit May 2.

"I'm going up against a pretty powerful bureaucratic organization," he explained. "Even though I know I have a very solid case, it's nice to have the support of [the ADL]."

Jonathan Bernstein, director of the ADL Central Pacific region, attended the meeting and called Ashenfarb's allegations against the prison and CDC "troubling and worthy of response."

He also said they were the first of their kind for the ADL's Central Pacific jurisdiction.

"We get a lot of cases involving prisoners coming our way," said Bernstein, "but I can't remember ever working with a guard."

As of now, the U.S. District Court hearing, originally scheduled for Sept. 5, has been postponed indefinitely. However, Ashenfarb said his lawyer met with representatives from the state attorney general's office and a judge Oct. 4 at the Marin County Courthouse in San Rafael. He said they discussed "several minor stipulations on several issues in the case" as requested by the CDC.

Ashenfarb, 44, joined the prison as a corrections officer in January 1994 and alleges that he is the victim of on-the-job anti-Semitism dating back to January 1995.

In his suit, Ashenfarb accuses named officers, sergeants, other agents and CDC employees of engaging in a "constant pattern of anti-Semitic speaking and sloganeering in the presence of inmates and among themselves, all of which have fostered an anti-Semitic environment."

The suit also states: "The plaintiff has suffered emotional distress, pain and suffering and other damages…he has sustained severe injuries to his health, strength and activity."

Ashenfarb is seeking monetary damages and asking the prison to change its response to anti-Semitic behavior.

According to policy, the CDC and prison will not comment on pending litigation.

The plaintiff, who lives in Sacramento, described a series of "embarrassing and demeaning" situations, ranging from anti-Jewish jokes to neo-Nazi and SS graffiti around the prison.

He said his co-workers have asked offensive questions on topics such as the size of his nose and the derivation of his last name. After buying a car, Ashenfarb said he was asked if he had to "Jew [the car dealer] down." Also, he said he has overheard co-workers refer to inmates as "Hebrew slaves."

In a letter to the Jewish Bulletin dated Sept. 21, a Jewish San Quentin inmate writes of Ashenfarb: "I had witnessed some of these anti-Semitic attacks."

He also wrote that he was "willing to give testimony."

Ashenfarb said it "doesn't surprise me at all" that he, whom he said he does not personally know, would witness the prison's anti-Semitic climate. Mepham learned of Ashenfarb's plight in the Bulletin.

Since filing his suit, Ashenfarb said he has received "overwhelming support from the staff and the inmates," and has heard many similar stories "of incidents that occurred to them."

Ashenfarb said he also encountered a "scare tactic" or two. In June he found a black swastika drawn on a piece of paper in his employee mailbox. In August he feared that a small fire, which sparked in his front yard and caused minimal damage to two 8-foot sections of fence, was set in reaction to his case.

In addition to the ADL, Ashenfarb also is seeking the assistance of attorney Alan Dershowitz, whose clients have included Jonathan Pollard and O.J. Simpson.