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Libel Suit Ends in Free Speech Victory

Some years ago, a Los Angeles pro-Israel activist, Rachel Neuwirth got into a scuffle with UCLA’s Hillel rabbi, Chaim Seidler-Feller.  Originally, Seidler-Feller, who I’d known and worked closely with when I was a UCLA grad student, said that she’d called him a “capo,” which had angered him and led to a scuffle.  A few years later, some time after a civil suit was filed, Seidler Feller published an apology in which he accepted blame for the altercation.

When I read about this, I was saddened.  I didn’t believe the Chaim Seidler-Feller I knew and respected would provoke such an incident.  I wrote in my blog that I believed his original version of events rather than the later one.  I suspected that due to the expense and exhaustion resulting from a long legal battle he was forced, for whatever reason, to concede to her demands and settle the suit.  In 2007, Neuwirth demanded that I retract my statement.  As I’d done nothing more than expressed my opinion on the matter, I declined her demand.  In the actual lawsuit she filed, she no longer mentioned the Seidler-Feller incident as her cause of action.  Instead, she was claiming that my calling her a “Kahanist pig” in a blog post amounted to calling her a terrorist.  She later brought suit against me in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Despite the fact that a judge granted an anti-SLAPP motion to have her suit dismissed, the California State Court of Appeal reinstated her suit.  Then, the case was tried in Superior Court before a different judge, who ruled against her.  Neuwirth appealed this ruling as well.  This week, six years after beginning her suit, the same California State Court of Appeals ruled against her.  Her case is finally done and she has lost.

She had included a claim of libel against Stanford Prof. Joel Beinin as well.  This week’s ruling dismissed that case too.  She could appeal to the State Supreme Court and there is a still a slim chance they may take her appeal.

I want to express my gratitude to my attorney, Dean Hansell, of the Los Angeles office of Hogan Lovells.  He is an old friend who I turned to, though we hadn’t had contact in years.  In my hour of need, Dean took the case pro bono, at considerable sacrifice to his firm, and stood up not only for me, but for free speech and the right for bloggers to express their views without fear.  The lesson here is that doing pro bono legal work is an important public service.  But no one prepares even the most generous lawyer for a six-year legal battle.  It was an extraordinary expenditure of time and energy generously supported by his then-partners at LeBoeuf and now Hogan Lovells.  Dean is active in city politics and has served on several mayoral commissions and is a leader of the LGBT community.  You couldn’t find a more exemplary lawyer than him.

This is not the first time I’ve been threatened with a libel suit (though the first time one was actually brought), nor may it be the last.  But I am thankful that the American justice system worked, though it took a very long time to do so.

I would also like to thank Prof. Gershon Shaffir of UC San Diego and Prof. Sarah Benor of Hebrew Union College-Los Angeles for serving as expert witnesses in my case.  They testified about the political and linguistic contexts of terms referring to radical right-wing Jews like “Kahanism,” etc.

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{ 10 comments… add one }

  • Greta Berlin, Free Gaza movement December 26, 2013, 9:08 AM

    Way to go, Richard. Am really happy to hear the outcome of this. Mary Hughes Thompson and I know this woman well, a sort of wanna-be with Stand With Us (or at least, she used to be) who stood on the other side of the road from us when we protested in front of the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles and continuously screamed at us. This ruling against her is good for us all. Perhaps, the next target should be Stand With Us

    • Richard Silverstein December 27, 2013, 2:01 AM

      @ Greta Berlin: Rachel’s good pal is Alison Rowan Taylor, who was quite instrumental in StandWithUs. She also worked at one time for American Jewish Congress in LA (& had Rachel on its board of directors). They make a good team.

  • Oui December 26, 2013, 11:14 AM

    Congratulations with the end of the lawsuit. Great to have such friends for support, well done.

    Some issues never go away. Her altercation with Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller concerned non other than Sari Nusseibeh!

    “Seidler-Feller allegedly attacked reporter Neuwirth on Oct. 21, when the two encountered each other outside UCLA’s Royce Hall after an Alan Dershowitz speech. The pair started arguing after Neuwirth overheard the rabbi inviting a group of protesting pro-Palestinian activists to a Hillel-sponsored event featuring Sari Nusseibeh, the Palestinian representative for Jerusalem.”

  • Mary Hughes Thompson December 26, 2013, 7:52 PM

    When Greta Berlin and I, along with a couple of other “Women in Black” joined UCLA students in protesting against Daniel Pipes, Rachel Neuwirth gave them our names. Neuwirth & Pipes tried unsuccessfully to get UCLA to file charges against us. http://www.danielpipes.org/blog/2007/04/my-disrupted-talk-at-ucla

    • Richard Silverstein December 27, 2013, 1:55 AM

      @ Mary Hughes Thompson: I can’t remember if it was Robert Spencer or Steve Emerson (from her court deposition) who also paid her $500 to videotape pro-Palestinian rallies in LA. She may even have you on tape!

  • Mary Hughes Thompson December 26, 2013, 7:54 PM

    So glad you finally have this nonsense put to rest, Richard. Congratulations for hanging in for so long. And to your attorneys who made it possible for you to keep up the fight.

  • Clif Brown December 26, 2013, 9:16 PM

    Thank goodness for pro-bono work.

    In more than in any other way, it is with the law that the increasing income inequality in the U.S. has the worst, literally unjust, effect. The fact is that unless you can get competent legal help, which almost always means a very substantial legal bill, you can’t get justice.

    Nobody needs multiple houses or cars, but when it comes to being accused of a crime and having to deal with charge, the rich are distinctly set apart from everyone else, using the law to stand above it.

    So many many people with little income plead guilty on the advice of prosecutors simply to be able to clear the docket of our factory system of “justice”, whether or not they are guilty of what they are accused of having done.

    Justice should not be for hire.

    It is good to hear that in your case, justice has been served.

  • jg December 26, 2013, 10:54 PM

    Richard, saw your news yesterday, was almost first to post Congrats! but was too tired, still am. Who knew you had this going on, all this time!! Very glad it’s over for you!! What an ordeal. Very glad you had good, loyal witnesses and the excellent and dedicated Dean Hansell and Law office.
    We all need people like that, when menace strikes – oh, to be so fortunate. Without, one can stumble, be less than clear, not stand our ground, or be ‘influenced.’.

    Thank you for letting us know. Good for you, you held out, and never quit.

    • Richard Silverstein December 27, 2013, 1:52 AM

      @ jg: When the ordeal first began I was eager to defend myself publicly. But my lawyer & others wiser in the way of the law said that could only harm my interest. So after a while I stopped talking about it publicly (hard as that was). I was surely hoping I could speak freely about this long before this. But a combination of an adversary who refused to give up and a legal system that got it wrong at times, and then took years to finally get it right, caused 6 yrs to go by before that could happen.

      In some ways though the ordeal isn’t over. She has allies who periodically try to post what I call Zio porn here. Defenses of her (one received the day after the decision was rendered when no one knew about it except me, her, our lawyers & the court personnel) that veer into the homophobic, pederastic, etc. You get the idea. Nuff said.

  • Frank Munley December 27, 2013, 6:31 AM

    Congratulations, Mr. Silverstein! Thanks to the pro bono work of your friends and your willingness to persist, you have protected 1st Amendment rights protects for everyone.

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