WASHINGTON (CN) - An imam need not face defamation claims from the querulous lawyer who tried to stop his plans for an Islamic community center near Ground Zero, a federal judge ruled.
As principal of the Malaysia-based nonprofit Cordoba Initiative Corp., Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf sparked controversy in 2010 with a plan to build an Islamic community center two blocks away from the World Trade Center in Manhattan.
Cordoba's mission calls for improving Muslim-West relations, its center, the Cordoba House, was set to replace a 19th-century Italian Renaissance-style palazzo building that once housed a Burlington Coat Factory at 45-47 Park Place. The building proposal included a preschool, a special needs center, a swimming pool, a 500-seat auditorium, art galleries and a top-floor sanctuary.
About a month after the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission refused
to halt the project by granting the site landmark status, attorney Larry Klayman sued Imam Rauf on behalf of Vincent Forras, a self-described first responder during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Their complaint against Rauf in New York challenged the community center as a nuisance and an assault that caused Forras emotional distress.
In his motion to dismiss the complaint, Rauf's attorney Adam Leitman Bailey said Forras had traded in his hero status "for fifteen minutes of fame as a nationally recognized bigot." The motion also called Klayman "an infamous publicity hound."
"His cause and his case have all the rationality of one who would seek to tear down New York City's Chinatown as vengeance for Pearl Harbor on the theory that all Asians are alike," Bailey wrote.
Klayman lost a motion for sanctions and later the case.
He and Forras then sued Rauf and Bailey in Washington for defamation, false light, assault and infliction of emotion distress, claiming that the language of the dismissal motion prompted radical Muslims to put a fatwa on them.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein dismissed the complaint Friday.
"This court rules that defendants' statements in this case are protected by the judicial proceedings privilege," she wrote. First, the statements were made in the course of a judicial proceeding," the judge states. "They were contained in defendants' motion to dismiss the New York Action. The statements related to the underlying proceeding since they represented defendants' attempts to highlight plaintiffs' allegedly frivolous position."
Rothstein also noted that the "defendants' privileged statements, while uncomplimentary of plaintiffs, are too attenuated to amount to an assault."
The judge tossed the emotional distress claim, as well, stating that "under contemporary community standards, the statements are best characterized as 'mere insults,' especially given the context of the statements."
Rauf and Bailey seek attorneys' fees, and the judge gave them until May 9 to file documentation in support of that motion.
Klayman, the conservative head of activist group Freedom Watch, is no stranger to failure in D.C. Federal Court.
In 2011, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly scolded
Klayman for his "consistent pattern of engaging in dilatory tactics" and disobedience of the court.