Steven J. Rosen's defamation suit against the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) saw its first court appearance today. Rosen and fellow employee Keith Weissman were criminally indicted under the 1917 Espionage Act in 2005 for allegedly obtaining classified US national defense information. The US Department of Justice dropped the espionage case in May of 2009, citing adverse pretrial rulings by presiding Judge T.S. Ellis. Rosen filed the civil lawsuit in March of 2009 alleging his former employer both libeled and slandered him in the news media.
AIPAC fired Rosen and Weissman in 2005. AIPAC's spokesman told the New York Times in April of 2005 that Rosen's actions differed from "the conduct that AIPAC expects from its employees." On July 7, 2005 the spokesperson told the New Yorker that "Rosen [and his colleagues] were dismissed because they engaged in conduct that was not part of their jobs and because this conduct did not comport with the standards that AIPAC expects and requires of its employees." Rosen's lawsuit seeks $21 million in damages for such statements that were "knowingly false and defamatory and issued in reckless disregard for the harm to Mr. Rosen."
Shortly before today's hearing commenced, Rosen's legal counsel David H. Shapiro gruffly advised AIPAC's attorney Thomas L. McCalley that he would be seeking "serious discovery" on Rosen's behalf. McCalley took it in stride, agreeing to work productively and only "fight about" core issues. McCalley, a veteran of employee/employer litigation, filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on May 13, 2009. He asserted that Rosen failed to show how "factual allegations" could be considered in any way defamatory. McCalley also took Rosen to task for filing his suit outside the one year statute of limitations for defamation as well as suing AIPAC board members. Persons serving as voluntary nonprofit board members in the District of Columbia are immune from civil liability except in the case of "willful misconduct."
Though Shapiro seemed eager to move to trial, presiding judge Jeanette J. Clark ordered a preliminary "Track 3 Mediation" process. Clark set a deadline for discovery on December 2, 2009. The first round of mediation attempts is due in February of 2010, the second in March. During the hearing, Shapiro verbally moved to dismiss its complaint against AIPAC's outside public relations firm, which the judge granted. It is unknown whether Rational, PR L.C. has now agreed to work with the plaintiff. Shapiro has until August 8 to reply to AIPAC's motion to dismiss.
Observers of this vestigial legacy of the AIPAC criminal trial may hope that Rosen's attempts at securing "major discovery" will shed additional light on AIPAC's activities. Whether or not Rosen's filing is several years too late, growing public awareness of the costs of AIPAC's many stealth activities are already a highly positive outcome of his lawsuit.