FRESH MEADOWS, NY (January 14, 2008) – Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Queens) and Senate Deputy Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Long Island) introduced the "Libel Terrorism Protection Act" ( S.6687/A.9652) on the front steps of The New York Public Library yesterday (the entire press conference is viewable here: (Part 1 and Part 2 ).
The legislation will protect American authors and journalists from foreign lawsuits that infringe on their First Amendment rights.
Senator Skelos and Assemblyman Lancman were joined by Senator Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn), noted First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, Daniel Kornstein, Dr. Ehrenfeld's attorney, and Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, a New York author who was sued for libel in Britain by a Saudi businessman whom she identified in her book "Funding Evil – How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It" as a financial supporter of terrorist organizations.
In Ehrenfeld v. Mahfouz, New York State's highest court held last month that it would not protect Dr. Ehrenfeld from a British lawsuit filed by Saudi billionaire Khalid Salim Bin Mahfouz, where she was ordered to pay over $225,000 in damages and legal fees to Bin Mahfouz, as well as apologize and destroy existing copies of her books.
Dr. Ehrenfeld sought a court order to protect her constitutional rights, but in a ruling with national First Amendment implications sending legal shockwaves throughout newsrooms across America, as well as potentially undermining our ability to expose terrorism's financial and logistical support networks, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that it does not have jurisdiction to protect Americans – on U.S. soil – from foreign defamation judgments, which contradict the U.S. First Amendment rights.
"When American journalists and authors can be hauled into kangaroo courts on phony-baloney libel charges in overseas jurisdictions who don't share our belief in freedom of speech or a free press, all of us are threatened and our war effort is weakened," said Lancman.
"This legislation will give New York's journalists, authors and press the protection and tools they need to continue to fearlessly expose the truth about terrorism and its enablers, and to maintain New York's place as the free speech capitol of the world," said Lancman. "The ability to expose the truth about international terrorist activities is critically-important to the global war on terror," said Senator Skelos.
"These foreign courts are trampling the First Amendment protections guaranteed to American writers and journalists by our Constitution and this legislation will ensure that they cannot infringe upon our freedom," said Senator Skelos.
"Under the Libel Terrorism Protection Act, writers and journalists would have foreign defamation suits declared unenforceable in New York unless the foreign law provides the same free speech protections guaranteed under our Constitution.
In effect, we are giving New Yorkers a chance to have their fair day in court," said Senator Golden.