Wed December 19, 2007
UB Art Professor "Strange Culture" Case Goes to Court
By Joyce Kryszak
Buffalo, NY – The attorney for UB Professor Steven Kurtz argued in Buffalo's Unites States District court Tuesday that charges should be dismissed against the man originally suspected of bio-terrorism.
Justice Richard Arcara heard oral arguments at the first pre-trial conference held in the government's 2004 indictment against Kurtz. He faces 20 years in prison for mail fraud, stemming from the alleged, illegal transfer of biological materials used in his art exhibits.
Kurtz received the bacteria from his colleague, University of Pittsburgh professor Robert Ferrell. A Federal Bureau of Investigation probe failed to show the materials were dangerous or illegal. Mail fraud charges were lodged after the lengthy investigation.
Defense attorney Paul Cambria argued in court Tuesday that there was no prohibition against the transfer of the non-hazardous bacteria. He added that even if there was a breach in the contract it would be a civil, not a criminal matter.
Ferrell, who suffers from several serious medical conditions, recently pleaded guilty. Kurtz said he is relieved to finally have a chance to air their side in court.
Kurtz said he was also encouraged by the judge's reactions to their first round of arguments. But Kurtz said if the case proceeds to trial he will "not back down." He said there is too much at stake, not just for him and the art community, but for all Americans who would be vulnerable to zealous prosecution under the new legal preccedent.
Kurtz belongs to a politically out-spoken group called the Critical Art Ensemble. The group was recently recognized for its 20 years of work on behalf of freedom of expression with a $100,000 Andy Warhol Foundation Wynn Kramarsky Freedom of Expression Award.
CAE member Lucia Sommer coordinates the Kurtz and Ferrell defense fund administered through Hallwalls and the National Association of Artist's Organizations.
Sommer said the $300,000 previously raised to cover legal costs isn't just costly to the art community. She said people are upset when they find out the case is continuing at taxpayer expense.
Assistant United States Attorney William Hochul declined to comment after court on Tuesday, citing that the case is ongoing.
Justice Arcara requested additional information, regarding the original contract with the lab which produced the bacteria and the University of Pittsburgh, before hearing additional arguments and ruling on the defense's motion to dismiss charges.
The hearing was adjourned until January 18 at 9:00 am.
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