Tough and feisty, acclaimed author Rachel Ehrenfeld has been battling Saudi sponsors of terrorism in print for years. Now she?s taking the fight to the courtroom.
While she didn?t start the current face-off?she was sued first by a prominent Saudi billionaire?she is trying to blaze a new path for other authors who otherwise might be gun shy about taking on petrol princes.
After publishing Funding Evil in 2003, which boasts an introduction by former CIA Director Jim Woolsey, Rachel Ehrenfeld became the latest victim of the litigious former banker for the Saudi royal family, Khalid bin Mahfouz. He sued her for libel, though not in American courts, which properly balance plaintiffs? concerns about harm to reputation with freedom of speech.
No, bin Mahfouz?whose name may sound familiar from the collapse of BCCI (Bank of Credit & Commerce International) in 1991?chose the forum that has been kindest to him and myriad others seeking an easy win in a libel case: British courts.
Though American common law is largely derived from the British system, defamation cases on the other side of the Atlantic start out from a fundamentally different perspective. British courts force authors to prove that what they wrote was true?which is not as easy as it sounds when evidentiary rules and other procedural hurdles are factored in. And the real kicker is that the scales start out tipped in favor of the plaintiff?which is sort of like giving the person suing a 5-mile head start in a 10-mile race.
As you?d expect when starting out at such a tremendous disadvantage, defending yourself against defamation in British courts carries an eye-popping price tag. So it?s of little surprise that few non-Brits voluntarily choose to do so. And since the only way damages ordered by a British court must be paid is if the plaintiff asks an American court to enforce the foreign judge's ruling, an author is generally better off taking his chances by waiting to see if the lawsuit comes stateside.
But playing it safe has a huge downside: it calls into question an author?s veracity and does unmeasurable harm to his reputation. And the obvious benefit for the plaintiff is the ability to hold up a default judgment that supposedly ?clears? his ?good name.?
Ehrenfeld wasn?t having any of that. True to her nature, she refused sit still while her name got sucker punched, so she and her lawyer crafted a novel legal theory. She?s countersuing bin Mahfouz?but in America, not in England.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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