Critical 1st Amendment Case Headed To Appeal

By Press Release
Sunday, October 15th, 2006 @ 9:50PM

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New York, N.Y.–On November 8, 2006, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will hear oral argument in Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld’s appeal of a lower court’s dismissal of her critical lawsuit against Saudi financier Sheikh Khalid Salim bin Mahfouz.

If successful, Dr. Ehrenfeld’s case could establish an effective wall against frivolous and malicious libel litigation targeting American freedom of the press from foreign shores. A free and informative press is a key pillar of democracy. American national security is in danger when outsiders are allowed to inhibit U.S. news institutions and journalists from abroad.

Mahfouz is a prominent libel tourist, having sued or threatened to sue dozens of authors in England, including Dr. Ehrenfeld. A recent decision by the House of Lords in England, Jameel v. Wall Street Journal Europe, suggests that English law may provide future protections for authors. However, there is no guarantee that lower English courts will follow it. Moreover, other countries remain attractive to libel tourists. The success of Dr. Ehrenfeld’s lawsuit is therefore critical both for her — who cannot relitigate against Mahfouz in England to benefit from the Jameel decision — and for future libel tourist targets.

In 2004, England’s High Court granted Mahfouz a default libel judgment against Dr. Ehrenfeld, based on statements in her book, Funding Evil, which investigates international terror funding. Dr. Ehrenfeld did not defend herself in England, where she neither lives nor works, and where the book was not published. Instead, she sued Mahfouz in New York federal court, seeking a declaratory judgment to rule the British decision unenforceable in the U.S. In April 2006, the lower court dismissed Dr. Ehrenfeld’s lawsuit on a technical ground.

Dr. Ehrenfeld’s New York action seeks federal court protection of U.S. First Amendment rights — for herself and other U.S. investigative reporters who cover national security issues, including terror financing. The libel tourist phenomenon has to date successfully silenced many American authors and newspaper and book publishers. Dr. Ehrenfeld’s action could set a vital legal precedent, to protect U.S. writers from them once and for all.

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Categories: Free Speech & Libel Tourism