Libel Tourism Bill Passed By [NJ] Senate Committee

By New Jersey Law Journal | by Michael Booth
Monday, May 18th, 2009 @ 3:35AM

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Another bill would strike statute of limitations for survivor lawsuits following homicides.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday recommended passage of a bill that would make it more difficult for foreign plaintiffs to collect on libel judgments originating from courts overseas. The bill, S-1643 , sponsored by Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, says New Jersey courts need not enforce a defamation judgment from a foreign court unless that country’s laws offer at least as much free speech protection as is provided for in the state and federal constitutions. Weinberg introduced the measure in an effort to shield New Jersey authors and publishers from “libel tourism,” the practice of defamation plaintiffs seeking countries whose laws are most amenable to recovery. The bill is a response to the case of American author Rachel Ehrenfeld, whose 2003 book, “Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It,” was the subject of a defamation case filed in the United Kingdom by a Saudi businessman, Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, whom Ehrenfeld linked to terrorism. The United Kingdom has fewer free speech protections in defamation cases, and an English judge found in bin Mahfouz’s favor, awarding him the equivalent of $225,000 in damages. The award moved New York State lawmakers to enact a similar law, the Libel Terrorism Reform Act, which Gov. David Paterson signed last year. Weinberg’s bill adds to the exemptions of which New Jersey authors and publishers can avail themselves when hit with defamation judgments from other countries, such as if adequate notice was not received; the judgment was obtained by fraud; the cause of action is against New Jersey public policy; or the foreign court was a seriously inconvenient form. The committee passed another bill, S-2763 , would amend the Survivor’s Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-3 et seq., to eliminate the statute of limitations for survivor lawsuits when the decedent’s death was caused by murder or manslaughter. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Cardinale and committee Chairman Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, mirrors changes made in 2000 to the Wrongful Death Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:31-1 et seq., which eliminated the statute of limitations in wrongful death cases with similar facts. Cardinale said the Legislature’s failure to amend the Survivor’s Act at that time was an inadvertent error. Neither bill encountered opposition and both now go to the full Senate for consideration. Enforce a defamation judgment from a foreign court unless that country’s laws offer at least as much free.

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