The California Anti-Libel Tourism Act passed out of the state's senate judiciary committee today on a 5-0 vote, Rachel Ehrenfeld writes. Academicians who know not to take their right of free expression for granted, rejoice!
Ehrenfeld forwarded me a fact sheet on the bill, which I've pasted below the jump.
People who could never win a libel lawsuit in California or the United States are suing in libel-friendly countries like the United Kingdom and gaining default judgments against Americans. Because of international treaties and comity of law, U.S. courts must generally recognize and enforce these judgments. SB 320 would prohibit state courts from enforcing a defamation judgment obtained in a foreign jurisdiction, unless the court determines the defamation law applied in the case provided at least as much protection for freedom of expression as offered by the U.S. and California Constitution.
Californians have strong protections to speak freely. The First Amendment, the California Constitution and California's Anti-SLAPP law give authors, journalists, activists and regular citizens the right to speak their mind without fear of being hit by an abusive lawsuit.
Speech rights are threatened by abusive lawsuits brought in libel-friendly foreign jurisdictions. British libel law, for example, presumes a statement is false and places the burden of truth on the defendant.
Britain has become a jurisdictional hub for the rich and famous, such as Khalid Salim bin Mahfouz. Bin Mahfouz, a billionaire Saudi entrepreneur, sued Rachel Ehrenfeld — an Israeli-born writer living in the United States – in London for her book, Funding Evil, which accused Bin Mahfouz of financing Islamic terrorist groups.
Ehrenfeld's book was not published in London, but Bin Mahfouz was able to establish jurisdiction because 23 copies of the book were purchased there online. Ehrenfeld determined not to submit to the court's jurisdiction and Bin Mahfouz was awarded a $225,000 default judgment.
SolutionThe California Anti-Libel Tourism Act would amend the Uniform Foreign-Country Money Judgments Recognition law to allow a court to not recognize a money judgment obtained in a foreign jurisdiction unless it first determines that the defamation law applied in the foreign court's adjudication provided at least as much protection for freedom of speech and the press as would be provided by both the U.S. and California Constitutions.The bill would give a court of this state personal jurisdiction over a person who obtains a foreign defamation judgment against any person who is a resident of California, or is a person or entity amenable to jurisdiction in California, for the purposes of rendering declaratory relief with respect to that person's liability for the judgment, or for the purpose of determining whether the judgment should be deemed non-recognizable pursuant to the act.
California Newspaper Publishers Association (Sponsor)
California First Amendment Coalition
American Book Sellers Foundation for Free Expression
American Civil Liberties Union