By David Streitfeld
Even though the judge narrowed Starr's original subpoena, the Dupont Circle store is declining to comply. "They are looking for us to hand over information about a specific customer's specific purchases, and that we will not do," co-owner Bill Kramer said.
At a news conference this morning, Kramer will announce that the store will appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
In the meantime, the store is asking for a stay of the judge's sealed order, which it received on Tuesday. Nevertheless, Kramer indicated it was likely that the store would be held in contempt, if only as a procedural matter.
The original subpoena asked about at least four instances in which Lewinsky, the former White House intern who is the central figure in Starr's investigation of President Clinton, purchased books at Kramerbooks. Barnes & Noble was similarly subpoenaed, but a spokeswoman for the chain said yesterday she was unaware of any activity in the case.
Kramer declined to describe the extent to which the subpoena had been narrowed, and said that wasn't the point anyway. "It's not a question of 'This much information is okay to give them.' The issue here is the principle. Once the dam is breached, the flow may start with a trickle, but pretty soon it's a flood."
The original subpoenas against Kramerbooks and Barnes & Noble provoked vows of defiance from booksellers, publishers and librarians. Among those chiming in with support were the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Avin Mark Domnitz, executive director of the booksellers association, commented yesterday that "while the court limited the information that must be turned over to Mr. Starr, it still missed the crucial point: Which books people choose to buy and read is not the business of the federal government."
Louis Bograd, an ACLU lawyer who helped draft a friend-of-the-court brief for Kramerbooks, said the organization was "distressed to hear that the judge may have upheld any subpoena to a bookstore, even a narrow one."
But Rodney Smolla, a William and Mary law professor who is a frequent commentator on First Amendment issues, warned that the appeals court may not buy this as a free speech case.
"This is getting a lot murkier," he said. "It would diminish the First Amendment aspects if the special prosecutor is issuing a subpoena not to determine Lewinsky's reading habits, but instead to see if she possessed a physical object that she turned over to the president."
If Lewinsky had bought a paperweight instead of a book, Smolla noted, Starr's reasons for inquiring about the purchase might be the same. Then, however, First Amendment considerations wouldn't apply.
Another lawyer, who has been watching the case closely but declined to be quoted on the record, agreed. "If this is no longer a fishing expedition about Lewinsky's reading material, and is limited to corroborating information about the purchase of particular titles they had reason to believe she gave to the president, it will probably be upheld," he said.
Kramerbooks is not saying it will never comply with any demand by Starr under any conditions, Bill Kramer said. It just wants the prosecutor to try every other means of getting the information first.
"We believe they have not exhausted avenues that do not threaten the First Amendment and privacy," he said.
And if the appeals court rules against the bookstore? "If there are grounds for an appeal to the Supreme Court, we would do so," the bookseller said.
This is quite a change from the position that the store was originally described as holding two months ago. When news of the subpoena first leaked out, Kramerbooks was reported as trying to find ways to comply. Bill Kramer said that was a mischaracterization, but in the meantime the store was picketed by librarians and savaged by some customers. Business dropped.
Now the store has gotten religion, but it's paying the price -- literally.
"We were Subpoena Number D2003," Kramer said. "The amount of money that has gone into the multi-thousands of subpoenas that went before, that went into responding to this subpoena, is staggering."
The bill for the store's lawyers, which is being paid in part by the booksellers association, is "well into six figures," Kramer said.
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