ALBANY, New York: New York's highest court decided Thursday, December 20, a state law cannot help me -an American author to block a libel verdict brought against me in London by a Saudi billionaire over my book "Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed — and How to Stop It."
The unanimous decision interpreting a New York law now goes to a federal court. There, I sought to combat what my attorney argued was a chilling effect on free speech by the billionaire, Khalid Salim A. Bin Mahfouz.
The Saudi businessman has sued or threatened more than three dozen times over writings on terrorism and those who fund it, including my 2003 book. The U.K. judge ordered me to pay the legal fees and damages, despite the fact that nothing in my book about Saudi funding of terrorism was ever disproved in an adversary process.
I fought back, filing a First Amendment lawsuit she filed against Mahfouz in New York.
The New York Court of Appeals decision in Ehrenfeld v. Mahfouz, may be read here: NYCOURTS
This case has been described as one of the most important First Amendment cases of the past 25 years. The case originated when Mahfouz filed a libel suit against me and my book Funding Evil; How Terrorism is Financed - and How to Stop It.
"Mafhouz has single-handedly wiped out an entire genre of reportage. Researchers are chilled into dropping the entire subject." said Rob Pfaltzgraff, producer of The Libel Tourist, a short film about Ehrenfeld’s struggle which may be viewed here:
(Please visit Libel Tourist website for more info-CLICK HERE)
This is a sad day for all Americans. One of the most important foundations of American Democracy is freedom of the press. Falling to protect my rights for freedom of speech under the Constitution’s First Amendment laws, the New York Court of Appeals, opened the door to those wishing to curtail the U.S. press and media willingness and ability to freely investigate and report on matters important to our survival as a free nation.
Solicitor Mark Stephens, a media law specialist partner with London law firm Finers Stephens Innocent , who also represents the WSJ is quoted by a British legal publication saying: “New York court’s decision was “obviously wrong” and not merits-based.”
My lawyer, Daniel Kornstein of Manhattan, said: "The chill continues. That's the danger and the risk and the problem that we tried to stress. It creates a sword of Damocles that inhibits authors and publishers, and readers can't read about it."
The New York Sun newspaper reported the decision by saying the State’s highest court had “turned down a chance to protect American authors from libel judgments awarded by foreign courts”.
The newspaper quoted Boston lawyer Harvey Silvergate, who has written on the case, as saying that "The New York Court of Appeals could have done a better job of protecting our Constitutional rights than it did here with this rather technical opinion."
The courts failure to defend freedom of speech calls for action to change the NY state law as soon as possible. In addition, we must lobby Congress to add a statute, strengthening the First Amendment, so that foreign jurisdiction can not silence American reporters on matters of national security.