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Suing Terrorism in the US Courts
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© Copyright 2001-2009. Pamela Trudo. All rights reserved.







Q:  What is your educational background?

A:  I went to Brandeis University and to Boston University School of Law.

Q:  I read from your curriculum vitae that you were able to go to Jerusalem for part of your education.

A:  I went to Yeshivat Ohr Somayach to study the Jewish religion.

Q:  Why did you enter the legal profession?

A:  I'm not sure.

Q:  In 1998 the Ungar family contacted you regarding the deaths of Yaron and Efrat.  What legal help were they seeking?

A:  Several Congressmen and Senators had reached out to American victims of terrorism in Israel and had suggested that they seek some sort of mechanism for obtaining justice. The Ungar family was looking for an attorney to help them with a lawsuit under the antiterrorism act of 1991. That's where I came in.  They chose me because several different people I happened to know in Israel had recommended me.

Q:  What were the specific facts of the case?

A:  There was a young family named the Ungars.  They were driving home from a wedding one evening outside a town named Beit Shemesh.  Their child, who was a few months old, was in the car seat in the back.  Terrorists drove up next to them and shot at their car.  They were gunned down and killed. There were some discussions that the reason the terrorists shot at the car was that the wife, Efrat, was driving.

Q:  You decided to sue under the antiterrorism act of 1991. Can you briefly explain the act?

A:  Sure. Title 18, Section 2333 of the United States Code allows American citizens to bring suit in any appropriate jurisdiction in the United States to seek treble damages from anyone, any organization, or entity that provides material support and assistance to anyone doing terrorism as well as the terrorists themselves.

Q:  I have read that the act was named after Leon Klinghoffer, the wheelchair-bound American, thrown off the Achille Lauro ship by Palestinian Liberation Organization terrorists in 1985.

A:  The statute is referred to as the Klinghoffer Act because after the Klinghoffer family had been jerked around by the legal system for so many years, it was apparent that the laws really did not work right.  The act is supposed to make it easier to bring these suits in federal court.

Q:  At the time you brought the suit on behalf of the Ungar family, did you expect to be successful in the courts?

A:  We were optimistic. We were not arrogant about it. It was the first time the statute had been tested. We were operating with unknowns.

Q:  It begs the question why it took so long to test the act.

A:  That's an interesting question. The statutes sat fallow and there wasn't much there.

Q:  Can you briefly give a procedural history as to what happened to the case?

A:  We filed suit and the Palestinian Liberation Organization put up a series of procedural roadblocks alleging the lack of jurisdiction and alleging that the PLO and Palestinian Authority couldn't be sued in the United States. They filed repeated motions to dismiss.  Numerous decisions were written because each time we won they would come up with a new procedural roadblock.  The court was very patient with them.

We were able to prevail after they exhausted all of their procedural impediments.  The first circuit came down with a decision in our favor on a preliminary matter. They were told to answer the case and conduct discovery, like everybody else. And, they chose not to do that.

Q:  You got a default judgment?

A:  Right. It was a default in the sense that they refused to comply with court orders and they refused to answer the case.  One of their strategies was not to provide an answer so that they would not have to answer for those terrible actions.

Q:   The award was for 116 million dollars.  Then you had to try to get the money.

A:  We're still going through that process. The appeal came down in March 2005 and we are in the process of trying to reach their assets now.

Q:  What has been their response?

A:  They have said repeatedly that they are refusing to pay and will not pay.  They have a very aggressive stance, denying their obligation to comply with the federal court's order.

Q:  Were you able to make the connection between the PA and PLO as far as funding the terrorism?

A:  Some of the issues we did not get into because they used the strategy of not answering the case. We did not have a trial. They refused to produce the documents they were ordered to produce, which is a shame, because we were looking forward to having a trial.  It would create embarrassment for them to expose themselves in a public court.

Q:  Have you personally received any threats?

A:  Not at all. Nope. We handle the case in a business-like type of fashion as if it’s a regular case. It happens to be in a unique circumstance. We handle it in an every day fashion and haven't given a lot of thought to those other kind of issues.

Q:  You are handling other terrorism cases too?

A:  Right.

Q:  It sounds like you have been in the forefront of creating a new area of law…antiterrorism law.

A:  Our cases are developing the law specifically with respect to this statute because there aren't a lot of cases like it.

Q:  What has been the response of the Bush administration regarding the freezing of Palestinian assets in the US?

A:  They're really not involved in it because it is a private law suit.

Q:  I did not know if the Palestinian Authority was putting pressure on them.

A:  There was an article that suggested that they were. I don't know if that is accurate. We just go on doing our business.

Q:  It must be rewarding to find a peaceful means to combat terrorism.

A:  It is. We are trying to do what Congress said: to join the fight against the terrorists and use all the mechanisms available in our legal system. This is what the courts are designed to do: to effectuate justice.  There is nothing more just than trying to bring perpetrators of such a horrible deed to accountability in a US court.

Q:  Any prediction as to where antiterrorism law is headed?

A:  We are expanding opportunities for the victims.  Not too many firms are doing this kind of law right now.

END

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David J. Strachman,  Esq.                                       
Interviewed November 14, 2005 by telephone from Providence, Rhode Island.
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