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Diana L. Courson

Zuckerman Spaeder LLP Prevails in Closely Watched International Libel Case

May 12, 2000

One Million Dollars and Exoneration

In one of the larger known recoveries by plaintiffs in a libel case, a team of Zuckerman Spaeder attorneys—William W. Taylor, Steven Salky and Elizabeth G. Taylor—recovered a settlement of at least $1 million dollars for two Northern Ireland businessmen. The businessmen had been falsely accused in a book, The Committee: Political Assassination in Northern Ireland, of being involved in and supporting Loyalist terrorism in their country. In addition to obtaining money for the brothers, David and Albert Prentice, both the author, Sean McPhilemy, and the publisher, Roberts Rinehart, issued an extraordinary statement acknowledging that the allegations against the plaintiffs were false.

The case was the subject of widespread coverage in England, Northern Ireland, and the U.S. because of the explosive allegations contained in the book regarding Loyalist terrorism, and because the author had sued the Sunday Times in London for defaming him by claiming that his thesis was a hoax. Although the author prevailed in his libel action in England, he was forced to admit in the case brought by the Zuckerman Spaeder lawyers that he had no support for his claims against the Prentice brothers.

The settlement does not end the case. The defendants agreed to pay the plaintiffs the maximum amount available under their insurance coverage, a minimum of $1 million. However, the parties disagree over the limits of coverage. The coverage issue is to be arbitrated and, if Zuckerman Spaeder's interpretation of the policy prevails, the plaintiffs' recovery will increase substantially.

In addition to obtaining an outstanding result for the clients, the case highlights the firm's unique expertise in litigating both defamation cases and disputes involving foreign parties. Because of the growing trend of international distribution of books via on-line booksellers, future defamation suits can be expected to present difficult issues of which country's law governs the determination of libel actions, and how the right of individuals to recover for damage to their reputation should be balanced against a U.S. publisher's rights under the First Amendment to disseminate information. Zuckerman Spaeder has represented both plaintiffs and defendants in libel and defamation cases and looks forward to remaining in the forefront of handling these complex cases.