FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Anita Aboulafia 212-267-6646, ext. 225, firstname.lastname@example.org
NYCLA’S FOREIGN AND INTERNATION LAW COMMITTEE PRESENTS LAW AND TERRORISM SERIES – LIBEL TERRORISM: THE INTERSECTION OF BRITISH LIBEL LAW AND THE FIRST AMENDMENT
April 8, 2008 – New York, NY – On Thursday, April 17, the New York County Lawyers’ Association’s (NYCLA) Foreign and International Law Committee is presenting a program, “Libel Terrorism: The Intersection of British Libel Law and the First Amendment,” at the offices of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLPat Four Times Square from 6:00-8:05 PM. A distinguished panel of experts will discuss the “Libel Terrorism Protection Act,” which seeks to limit enforcement of money judgments filed against a U.S. publisher or author in a foreign country in cases in which the foreign law does not provide as much freedom of speech protection as is provided by the U.S. Constitution. The bipartisan “Libel Terrorism” bill was introduced in January by two of the program’s panelists in the New York State Legislature in response to a case in which an author was sued for libel in London’s High Court of Justice by a Saudi-Arabian billionaire after she accused him of supporting terrorism. The bill has passed unanimously in both the State Senate and Assembly.
The panelists will be: Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, the author who was sued for libel; Samuel A. Abady, a civil liberties and criminal defense attorney; Floyd Abrams, a partner at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP; Daniel J. Kornstein, a founding partner at Kornstein Veisz Wexler & Pollard, LLP and Dr. Ehrenfeld’s lawyer; Dean Ringel, a partner at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP; and the two state legislators who introduced the bill, Hon. Rory I. Lancman (D), Assemblyman, 25th Assembly District in Queens, and Hon. Dean G. Skelos (R), Senator, 9th Assembly District in Nassau County and Senate Deputy Majority Leader. The moderator will be Nicholas Rostow, University Counsel and Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs, SUNY and chair of NYCLA’s Foreign and International Law Committee.
In 2004, Dr. Ehrenfeld, Director of the New York-based American Center for Democracy and Center for the Study of Corruption & the Rule of Law, was sued for libel in the U.K. by Khalid bin Mahfouz, a banker to the Saudi royal family. Dr. Ehrenfeld had accused Mr. Mahfouz of supporting al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups prior to September 11, 2001 in her book, Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed – and How to Stop It (2003). In filing the lawsuit in the United Kingdom, Mr. Mahfouz joined a surge of other wealthy, nonresidents of Arabic descent who have sought punitive damages for alleged defamation after being accused of funding terrorist activities.
Unlike the U.S., where the Supreme Court ruled in New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) that public figures who sue media defendants must show that defamatory statements were “made with actual malice,” the U.K. is among the scores of countries that do not provide such extensive safeguards for freedom of speech.
After losing the libel judgment to Mr. Mahfouz, Dr. Ehrenfeld filed a suit, Ehrenfeld v. Mahfouz (2006) in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In June 2007, the Court dismissed the case for lack of personal jurisdiction and declined to address whether subject matter jurisdiction existed. The Court ruled that New York State courts should decide whether the state’s long-arm statute confers jurisdiction against Mr. Mahfouz. In December 2007, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that New York law does not confer jurisdiction because Mr. Mahfouz has insufficient ties to New York for the courts to assert jurisdiction over him. Most recenty, in March 2008, this decision was affirmed in a related court case by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Opponents of the libel terrorism bill say that it raises serious constitutional questions and puts New York State “out of line.”
Attorneys attending the program may earn CLE credits; non-attorneys may attend the program for free.
The program is among the myriad NYCLA events taking place during NYCLA’s Centennial year celebration, which commenced in April 2007 and ends in December 2008. NYCLA (www.nycla.org) was founded in April 1908 as the first major bar association in the country that admitted members without regard to race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual identity. Since its inception, it has pioneered some of the most far-reaching and tangible reforms in American jurisprudence and has continuously played an active role in legal developments and public policy.
# # #