Tarazi v. Geller

Omar Tarazi, the Ohio lawyer who represented the parents of Rifqa Bary and who had filed a $10 million defamation lawsuit against AtlasShrugs.com blogger Pamela Geller, has dismissed his lawsuit with prejudice. The dismissal came on the heels of a court document filed by David Yerushalmi and Robert Muise, asking the court to enter a judgment in favor of Pamela Geller.The voluntary dismissal with prejudice prevents Tarazi from refilling the lawsuit at some later date and was part of a settlement in which Ms. Geller paid no money and only agreed to remove five specific blog entries out of dozens criticizing Tarazi’s involvement and handling of the Rifqa Bary juvenile proceedings.

Ms. Geller also refused to agree to keep the terms of the settlement confidential. As she put it, “This lawsuit was filed as part of the Islamist lawfare against critics of sharia, jihad, and honor killings, and I refused to capitulate. At the end of the day, Tarazi blinked and folded.”

Ms. Geller was unflinching in her assessment of the outcome of this suit: “This is a huge victory for the First Amendment, truth, and the anti-sharia movement in this country which is exposing an insidious cancer that brings progressives and Islamists together in common cause to attack anyone who criticizes Islamists with the threat of lawsuits, actual lawsuits, or worse, violence.”

Mr. Tarazi came under intense criticism by Ms. Geller during the Rifqa Bary litigation, which arose after the 17-year old Rifqa converted from Islam to Christianity and ran away from her Ohio home in the summer of 2009 to take refuge with Christian friends in Florida, alleging that her father threatened to murder her in an honor killing. The case garnered enormous media coverage both nationally and internationally and involved vituperative juvenile proceedings in both Florida and Ohio.

Ms. Geller blogged about the case extensively given her work at the American Freedom Defense Initiative, an organization Ms. Geller founded and directs, the mission of which in part is to protect young Muslim women from the violence of honor killings.

In the course of her blogging about the case, which also included a rally she organized in Ohio to advocate for Rifqa’s right not to return to her parent’s home, Ms. Geller reported on various stories published at My Pet Jawa and televised on Fox News critical of Mr. Tarazi’s legal representations in court. The central allegation against Tarazi was that he had allegedly perjured himself in court filings in the Ohio juvenile proceedings.

Mr. Tarazi filed his lawsuit in September 2010 against Ms. Geller and Rifqa’s Florida lawyer, John Stemberger, seeking $10 million in damages. The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio based upon diversity of citizenship. Ultimately, Mr. Tarazi and Mr. Stemberger entered into a confidential settlement and Mr. Tarazi dismissed his complaint against Mr. Stemberger.

Soon after the lawsuit was filed, Ms. Geller’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss in November 2010, asserting that Ms. Geller’s comments were protected speech under Ohio Free Speech law and under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The court never got around to ruling on that motion.

In the meantime, the parties conducted discovery and in August 2011, Mr. Tarazi filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that he believed he had made out his case for liability, and asked the court to grant judgment on liability and to set a trial just on the amount of damages.

On September 19, 2011, David Yerushalmi and Robert Muise filed an opposition to Tarazi’s motion and argued that not only had Tarazi failed to make out a case of defamation, but also that all of Ms. Geller’s published statements were true and not defamatory. The 400+ page opposition detailed to the court just how Tarazi had been less than candid with the juvenile court, resulting in “truth” as a defense.In the opposition papers, Ms. Geller also raised Free Speech defenses and asked the court to award her judgment and to dismiss the lawsuit against her in its entirety.

The very next day, Tarazi called Mr. Yerushalmi and asked to settle.Although Tarazi sought to keep the terms of the settlement confidential, Ms. Geller refused.

Mr. Yerushalmi explained the calculus during the settlement negotiations which culminated in a voluntary dismissal the very same day:“I explained to Mr. Tarazi: you can walk away now with no money and no secrecy agreement, or you can wait until the court dismisses your suit and renders a formal judgment that you were not truthful to the Franklin County Juvenile Court.Take your pick.”The settlement agreement and voluntary dismissal with prejudice were negotiated, drafted, and filed with the court before the close of business.

Although Ms. Geller agreed to take down and not re-post five specific blog entries that directly mentioned and criticized Tarazi, dozens of critical blogs remain and there are no restrictions on Ms. Geller’s future blogging on the Rifqa Bary affair and Tarazi’s role.

One of the claims of defamation lodged by Tarazi was that Ms. Geller had linked him to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim Brotherhood-Hamas front group, which the U.S. Department of Justice had previously named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terror financing trial in Texas.The trial culminated in guilty verdicts for all defendants.

During discovery, Ms. Geller’s lawyers uncovered that Tarazi in fact has personal and professional links to CAIR and argued to the court that Ms. Geller’s statements linking Tarazi to CAIR could not be defamatory because they were true.

Tarazi, an Ohio licensed lawyer, represented himself during the proceedings. Ms. Geller was represented by David Yerushalmi (New York and Washington, D.C.) and by Robert J. Muise, (Ann Arbor, Michigan). Patrick Dunphy of Falke & Dunphy, LLC, in Dayton served as local counsel.

CASE UPDATE: The case was dismissed.  Case closed.