Ruling Against Muslim Group Is Overturned
Saturday, December 29, 2007
A federal appeals court in Chicago overturned a $156 million jury award against a former Muslim charity once billed as the nation's largest and several other defendants yesterday, saying that the plaintiffs failed to prove that financial contributions to a Palestinian terrorist group played a direct role in the slaying of an American teenager in Israel.
The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit voided a lower court judge's 2004 ruling on behalf of Stanley and Joyce Boim, whose son David was shot by Hamas operatives in the West Bank in 1996. The U.S. government designated Hamas a terrorist organization in 1997.
U.S. District Judge Arlander Keys in Chicago ruled then that the Boims did not have to show that the defendants aided the attack or were aware of it, only that they "were involved in a agreement to accomplish an unlawful act."
Arlander said the defendants -- defunct charities, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, and the American Muslim Society/Islamic Association for Palestine; and a man named Mohammed Salah -- were liable for damages because they paid Hamas in 1993 and 1994 for speaking engagements and distributed propaganda for the group.
In yesterday's strongly worded opinion, Appeals Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner wrote: "Belief, assumption, and speculation are no substitutes for evidence in a court of law. . . . We must resist the temptation to gloss over error, admit spurious evidence, and assume facts not adequately proved simply to side with the face of innocence and against the face of terrorism."
The appeals court ruling sends the case back to the lower court for a possible new trial.
"They had no evidence of direct causation . . . of the tragic death of young Mr. Boim," Salah's attorney, Matthew Piers, said of the Boims. "This was a tragedy manipulated in the legal system and mishandled at the trial court level."
Attorneys for the other defendants could not be reached, nor could Stephen Landes, the Boim family's attorney.
David Boim, 17, was killed in May 1996 while waiting for a bus. Two gunmen sprayed the area with bullets. The 11th-grader had Israeli and U.S. citizenship, and was living in Israel with his parents. To honor their son, the Boims vowed to help bring down Hamas.
In separate cases after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, both the Holy Land Foundation and Salah were indicted by the United States on charges of providing material support to a terrorist group.
Holy Land was forced to shut down after the government froze its assets for conspiracy and tax evasion, and Salah was jailed recently after being found guilty of obstruction of justice, Piers said. Salah's family welcomed the appeal court's decision as a vindication.
"They are pleased that the court system in this country has proven itself once again," Piers said. "My client . . . has always maintained that he's a man of peace. The accusation that he caused this death was really hurtful to him."