Libel Protection Act: ‘This law will give New York’s journalists, authors and press the protection and tools they need’

A press release from the offices of New York State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Queens) and Senate Deputy Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) offers some hope to New York journalists committed to “fearlessly expos[ing] the truth about terrorism and its enablers.”

Below, the full text heralding “Libel Terrorism Protection Act,” which is an outgrowth of the lawsuit filed against Rachel Ehrenfeld on behalf of Khalid Salim Bin Mahfouz upon the release of Dr. Ehrenfeld’s book, Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed — and How to Stop It in 2003.

“This is a great step by New York–where the publishing and media [industries] are based–to try to prevent what gets published here having to conform to the lowest common denominator of speech protections,” according to Laura R. Handman, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP, and a prominent First Amendment lawyer. (Disclosure: Handman represents The Observer.)

Release follows:

Albany, NY (March 31, 2008) – The New York State Legislature today unanimously passed the “Libel Terrorism Protection Act” (S.6687/A.9652), sponsored by Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Queens) and Senate Deputy Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos (R-Rockville Centre). When signed into law by Governor David Paterson, this legislation will protect American journalists and authors from foreign lawsuits that infringe on their First Amendment rights.

In Ehrenfeld v. Mafouz [sic.], New York State’s highest court held 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 in November of 2006 to protect her constitutional rights, but in a ruling with national First Amendment implications which sent 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 First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The Libel Terrorism Protection Act declares overseas defamation judgments unenforceable in New York unless the foreign defamation law provides, in substance and application, the same free speech protections guaranteed under our own constitution, and it gives New York residents and publishers the opportunity to have their day in court here in New York.

“This is a great day for free speech and freedom of the press, and I urge Governor Paterson to quickly sign this legislation into law. This law will protect our journalists and authors from trumped up libel charges in kangaroo courts in overseas jurisdictions which don’t share our commitment to free speech and freedom of the press,” said Lancman. “This law 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,” Lancman concluded. Lancman’s remarks on the Assembly floor are viewable here .

“The truth is a critically-important component in the War on Terror,” said Senator Skelos. “This important new law will protect American authors and journalists who expose terrorist networks and their financiers. In its decision, the Court of Appeals called upon the State Legislature to revise the law. Today, we made clear that New York State will safeguard the First Amendment and these courageous writers.”

Libel Protection Act: ‘This law will give New York’s journalists, authors and press the protection and tools they need’