Gov. David Paterson signed the Libel Terrorism Protection Act on Thursday, helping New York set the pace in protecting American journalists from foreign libel verdicts.
The bill was first proposed in response to a ruling from New York’s highest court that the state could not exercise jurisdiction over Khalid Salim a Bin Mahfouz, a Saudi Arabian businessman and banker who obtained a default judgment in a defamation suit against American author Rachel Ehrenfeld in a British court. Bin Mahfouz is one of the world’s most notorious libel tourists, having used or threatening to use plaintiff-friendly British courts to sue for libel at least 36 times since 2002.
The law combats such international forum shopping on two fronts. It prevents litigants from enforcing foreign libel judgments in the state unless a New York court finds that the jurisdiction issuing the judgment provides the same free speech protections guaranteed under the U.S. and New York state constitutions. Secondly, it grants New York courts jurisdiction over litigants who obtain a foreign defamation judgment against New York state citizens, allowing Ehrenfeld and others like her to petition a state court for a declaratory judgment rendering the foreign decision unenforceable on New York soil.
In signing the bill, Paterson recognized that New York has blazed a trail that other states and the federal government must follow.
“Although New York State has now done all it can to protect our authors while they live in New York, they remain vulnerable if they move to other states, or if they have assets in other states,” Paterson said in a statement. “We really need Congress and the President to work together and enact federal legislation that will protect authors throughout the country against the threat of foreign libel judgments.”
Picking up on the tone set by his state, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) took the first step towards establishing similar protections on a national scale when he introduced the Freedom of Speech Protection Act (H.R. 5814), in the House of Representatives.