Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Lawyers Who Advocate for Victims of Iranian-Sponsored Terrorism are "Doing Well by Doing Good"

Iran and the terrorist organizations it enthusiastically sponsors have injured and killed thousands of victims around the world in the past several decades. Other nations have also sponsored deadly terrorist attacks. A dedicated and resourceful group of lawyers including Thomas Fortune Fay, Stuart Newberger and Steve Perles have exacted some measure of justice via the U.S. court system and also via the creation of legislation designed to ensure that these rogue states and their terrorist proxies are forced to pay for their evil actions.

A Newsweek story detailing the efforts of these lawyers concludes that the lawyers are "doing well by doing good." Contingency fees in such cases typically range from 33 to 40 percent but these lawyers have agreed to receive no more than 25%. A total of $12 billion in compensatory damages has been awarded to victims of terrorism thanks to the brilliance and persistence of these lawyers. There are approximately 2500 clients in these cases, consisting of the survivors of terrorist attacks and people whose family members were killed in these attacks, including "the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia and the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The lawyers also have been looking out for the victims of the Tehran, Iran, hostage crisis that began in 1979."

The ideas of pursuing justice through the courts and creating a victims' fund derive from the experiences of Hugo Princz, "the son of a naturalized American businessman living in what is today Slovakia, making him a U.S. citizen at birth. In 1942, townspeople turned over the Princz family to the Nazis, who ignored their U.S. passports and sent them to concentration camps in Poland. Princz's parents and sisters died in Treblinka, while Hugo, then a teenager, worked as a slave laborer for three years, first at Auschwitz, then at a factory in Dachau, outside Munich. U.S. forces freed Princz in May 1945 and treated him at an American military hospital."

Princz moved to the U.S. after the Holocaust and he applied for Holocaust reparations from the German government but the heirs to the Nazi empire refused his requests, citing a loophole in the reparations program (Princz was neither a German citizen nor a refugee, so he was technically ineligible even though the Nazis had murdered his family and imprisoned him for years as a slave laborer). Princz hired Perles to sue Germany in federal court, with the legal argument that the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act--a U.S. law that prevented Princz from suing Germany--was not meant to help the Nazis' heirs avoid paying for their crimes against humanity. Princz won at the trial court level but lost on appeal and in the U.S. Supreme Court. However, his pursuit of this matter attracted the attention of President Bill Clinton, who persuaded German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to pay $25 million in reparations to Princz and more than 40 other U.S. Holocaust survivors.

Then came a 1995 Iranian-sponsored bus bombing in Gaza that killed, among others, 19 year old U.S. exchange student Alisa Flatow. Perles lobbied Congress to pass a law enabling U.S. victims of state-sponsored terrorism to file civil suits in U.S courts against state sponsors of terrorism. Perles explains, "At some point, a foreign sovereign's conduct becomes so noxious toward a U.S. citizen that the foreign sovereign no longer can expect to receive sovereign immunity. And if you want to tell bad guys that they ought not to be doing this, you've got to take their money away from them."

After Congress passed legislation in 1996 addressing this issue, Perles sued Iran on behalf of Flatow's father and other victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism.  After a six year legal battle, Perles won a judgment for $77 million and he located confiscated Iranian funds that could be used to pay that judgment.

Perles then teamed up with Fortune Fay to sue Iran for that nation's role in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. Perles and Fay won a series of judgments totaling $4.2 billion, an outcome that Iran is challenging in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Unfortunately, most of the monetary judgments have not been fulfilled because the U.S. Justice Department has been unwilling to compensate the victims with funds paid by businesses and banks that violated U.S. sanctions against Iran. After earning victory in the court system only to be stymied by the executive branch of the government, the lawyers turned to the legislative branch of the government for relief, negotiating deals with key members of Congress to create a victims' fund consisting of $1 billion "drawn from penalties paid by the Paris-based bank BNP Paribas for violating sanctions against Iran, Sudan and Cuba." It took three years for the lawyers to draft a proposal for the victims' fund and persuade Congress to create the fund but now that work has been completed and President Obama signed the law on December 18.

No amount of money can compensate for human suffering/loss of life--but it is very important that those who do wrong are punished for their evil actions and made to understand that they cannot act with impunity. It is difficult to imagine a higher, more noble calling for a lawyer than to exact justice against rogue states that use their power, money and influence to spread terror and death around the world

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