An Indian-origin law student has sued Manhattan's top federal prosecutor Preet Bharara and the US Justice Department claiming she was unlawfully questioned and her cell phone confiscated after she sent letters to the presiding judge during Rajat Gupta's insider trading trial.
Benula Bensam, 24, who regularly attended the trial of ex-McKinsey head Gupta, filed a 16-page lawsuit against Bharara, prosecutors Reed Brodsky, Richard Tarlowe and the US Marshals Service in US district court this month.
In the lawsuit she alleges that she was subjected to "unreasonable search and seizure for unlawful stop, detention, interrogation, seizure of property, search of property, search of communications and demand for identification."
She is representing herself in the lawsuit.
Bensam had got into trouble during Gupta trial last month after she sent three letters to Judge Jed Rakoff on the case.
A law student at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law, Bensam said she had taken a class on federal rules of evidence during her last semester and the letters to Rakoff focused on the various evidentiary rulings he had made in the case and were not intended to influence him.
She said in the lawsuit that she wanted to "understand the process of litigation" and intended to follow the case on a "general level".
"At no point had anyone informed me that I must not direct letters about the ongoing trial, or about the evidentiary rules or about any other matter to Judge Rakoff," she said in the lawsuit, adding that "no executive agency may intercept or intervene in any way the communications to a member of the judiciary on the subject of a trial."
"It is not a crime for a disinterested party to write letters to a judge on the subject of a trial," the lawsuit said.
"The US Marshals are to be held responsible for actions taken by court security officers for their role in the seizure of my phone," Bensam said in the lawsuit.
She added that Bharara as well as the prosecutors in the Gupta case had "instigated the involvement of the US Marshals".
During one of the court proceedings in June, Bensam was escorted out of the courtroom by US Marshals and questioned over the letters she had sent to the judge.
Marshals questioned her at length and refused to return her cell phone saying she could get it back only after she had answered all their questions, she said.
The Marshals also attempted to take her picture with a mobile phone and she later decided to go home and refused to answer any questions.
She returned to the court next day to get her phone back.
She also alleged that her phone had been switched on by the court security.
According to rules of the US District Court in Manhattan, members of the public are not allowed to take cell phones and electronic devices into the court and must deposit them with court security.
Later during a break in the court's proceedings, Bensam was asked to go up to Rakoff's bench for a private conference with him and the lawyers.
Bensam said the judge had politely asked her not to send any letters to him as any communication might be perceived as an attempt by her to influence him on the outcome of the case.