NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge tried Thursday to bring order to the legal process after a new law opened the floodgates to 9/11 lawsuits blaming Saudi Arabia for the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Magistrate Sarah Netburn presided over a hearing that brought together dozens of lawyers who have filed more than a dozen lawsuits since last fall. The latest was filed just hours before the hearing.
The lawsuits represent thousands of family members of those who died during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and others who were injured. A separate lawsuit was brought on behalf of insurance companies that paid $212 million after the attacks. It seeks at least triple that in damages. Most of the suits seek unspecified damages.
Saudi Arabia is scheduled in June to request that the lawsuits be tossed out.
Netburn said she'd like to see some consolidation among lawsuits largely alleging the same facts. The suits claim Saudi Arabia supported al-Qaida for a decade before the Sept. 11 attacks through a series of purported charities and other means.
The lawsuits were filed since last September, when Congress overrode a veto by former President Barack Obama to turn the 2016 Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act into law.
Sovereign immunity usually protects governments from lawsuits, but the bill creates an exception that lets litigants hold foreign governments responsible if they support a terrorist attack that kills U.S. citizens on American soil.
Michael Kellogg, a lawyer for Saudi Arabia, said at Thursday's hearing that lawyers for plaintiffs were playing unfairly by using mostly the same plaintiffs in 9/11 cases brought 14 years ago to make new claims against Saudi Arabia.
"They've added a number of different allegations, which will complicate the process," he said.
Previous efforts to hold Saudi Arabia, its officials, and banks and charitable organizations responsible for the attacks have failed in the courts. Not all of the cases have been tossed out solely for sovereign immunity reasons.
In 2008, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that four Saudi princes cannot be held liable in the Sept. 11 attacks even if they were aware that charitable donations to Muslim groups would be funneled to al-Qaida.
The court said the plaintiffs would need to prove the princes engaged in intentional actions aimed at U.S. residents.
A lower court judge had earlier noted that the Sept. 11 commission found no evidence Saudi Arabia — the birthplace of bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers — funded or supported the Sept. 11 terrorists.