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NIAC Lost Defamation Case and was Sanctioned for Discovery Abuses

Hassan Daioleslam's statement

In 2008 NIAC filed a defamation lawsuit against one of its critics to silence him. In 2012 a court dismissed the case and punished the NIAC and its president, Trita Parsi, for lying to the court, withholding and concealing documents and other discover absues

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Summary

Between 2007 and 2008, the NIAC and its president Trita Parsi were faced with growing criticism from the Iranian-American community that questioned the NIAC's ties to the Iranian regime and its lobby in favor of Iranian rulers.

NIAC launched a campaign (of intimidation against) journalists, activists and media outlets. Their hope was to silence all opposition but this campaign failed. Finally, in April 2008 NIAC decided to file a defamation lawsuit against one of its main critics, Hassan Daioleslam, to break him under the financial burdens of the lawsuit and as a result, to send a message to other critics.

In September 2012, after 53 months of litigation the District Judge John Bates ruled in favor of defendant Daioleslam and dismissed all the charges against him.

In a second ruling, the judge sanctioned NIAC and Trita Parsi for legal abuses including a false declaration to the court and ordered them to pay significant part of Daioleslam's legal expenses. In April 2013, the court ordered NIAC to pay $183,000 to compensate Hassan Daioleslam's legal expenses. 

The lawsuit obliged NIAC to release some of its internal documents that turned to be devastating for the organization and revealed Parsi's ties to the Iranian government. The Washington Times and several other journals published reports about these documents. Part of these documents are posted on the Iranian American Forum website.

Background

In 2006 the Jack Abramoff lobbying and corruption scandal became public. Abramoff and his partners operated within an elaborately fashioned web of money for political favors. One of his main accomplices was Congressman Bob Ney. In October 2006, Ney pleaded to corruption charges and was later sentenced to 30 months in prison. According to Ney's indictment and plea agreement document, he received bribes from Abramoff, other lobbyists, as well as two foreign businessmen who worked for the Iranian regime. (see documents)

Ney was well known to the Iranian-American community because he was passionately fighting in Congress to ease sanctions and pressure against Tehran in the Congress. When the extent of Ney's corruption was revealed, the political observers began asking a simple question: why would a corrupted politician who so readily made his services available to the highest bidder, so passionately cared for the Iranian rulers?

Furthermore, Bob Ney had a young Iranian foreign policy advisor in his office. So, why would a lawmaker with no official role in foreign policy making had a foreign policy advisor on Iran? This advisor was Trita Parsi, a young Iranian from Sweden and the president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).

Following Ney's corruption scandal, attention turned toward his assistant Trita Parsi. and his organization, NIAC, did not escape scrutiny, and questions were raised about Parsi and the NIAC’s ties to the Iranian regime. Among them was Hassan Daioleslam, a human rights activist, who published the result of his investigation about this issue in April 2007 in an article entitled, “Iran’s Oil Mafia, Penetrating US Political System His investigation included the examination of public documents and explanations of how/why NIAC and Trita Parsi lobby in favor of the Iranian regime.

The first reactions to his article came from the governmental press in Tehran.  Six newspapers and websites close to the regime stepped forth to defend NIAC and to attack Daioleslam's reputation and accused him of being an agent of the New Conservatives, AIPAC and Israel. The ultra radical newspaper Ghods wrote: "The Neocons attack the Iranian lobby in the US." 

Then, Mr. Parsi and his colleagues at NIAC publically accused him of being a terrorist and warmonger, starting a campaign of intimidation to silence public critic of NIAC. As this campaign failed, NIAC decided to launch a defamation lawsuit against Daioleslam to break him under financial burdens of the lawsuit and as a result, silence all other critics. 

Daioleslam hired a lawyer and started to fight back.  After a short time, his personal resources were exhausted and he realized such an endeavor could not be sustained by him alone. He asked for help. The Legal Project at the Middle East Forum responded positively to Daioleslam and contacted several law firms for help. Finally, Sidley Austin accepted to defend him pro bono. Timothy kapshandy of Sidley Austin's Chicago office has been his chief attorney. Michele Obama worked for Sidley Austin's Chicago office as well.

The lawsuit obliged NIAC to release some of its internal documents that turned to be devastating for the organization and revealed Parsi's ties to the Iranian government. Washington Times and many other journals published some of these documents. These documents are posted on Iranian American Forum website.

Court ruling in favor of Daioleslam

On September 13, after 53 months of litigation the District Judge John Bates ruled in favor of defendant Daioleslam and dismissed all the charges against him. By law, the burden was on NIAC to show that Daioleslam acted with malice in regards to the accusations. Having failed to meet this requirement, the suit was dismissed.  During the lawsuit, Hassan Daioleslam defended and reaffirmed his belief that Parsi and NIAC lobby for the Iranian regime. Some excerpts of his declarations during the litigation are available at the end of this report.

 The Courthouse News Service, a nationwide independent news service for lawyers and the news media, summarized the ruling as follow:  

"An Arizona man did not defame a nonprofit or its president in accusing them of colluding with the Iranian government, a federal judge ruled.
The National Iranian American Council and its president, Trita Parsi, claimed that they were maliciously and falsely represented as "members of a subversive and illegal Iranian lobby colluding with the Islamic Republic of Iran." They sued Seid Hassan Daioleslam for broadcasting this message in articles on IranianLobby.com and other websites.
The council says it is an advocacy organization "dedicated to promoting Iranian American involvement in American civic life," and that Daioleslam's articles have hampered both its fund-raising and advocacy goals.
Daioleslam pointed to the group's lobbying activities to defend the fact that he referred to the council as "the Mullahs' lobby" and "the Ayatollahs' Lobby."
U.S. District Judge John Bates granted him summary judgment Thursday, noting that several of the claims against Daioleslam can be dismissed easily.
"Defendant was often sloppy in his reporting, either omitting ellipses, slightly misquoting the underlying source, or failing to put a citation in the appropriate place," Bates wrote. "But none of the errors misrepresent the substance of the source material or mislead the reader
."

In his ruling judge Bates wrote:

"That Parsi occasionally made statements reflecting a balanced, sharedblame approach is not inconsistent with the idea that he was first and foremost an advocate for the regime. Given the other evidence defendant amassed to support his views, the Court sees no "actual malice" in defendant's decision to disregard occasional contrary statements and assume that they were made largely to burnish Parsi and NIAC's image in the United States. After all, any moderately intelligent agent for the Iranian regime would not want to be seen as unremittingly pro-regime, given the regime’s reputation in the United States." (p. 12)


Court punished NIAC and Parsi for discovery abuses

In a second ruling, judge sanctioned NIAC and Trita Parsi for discovery abuses including false declaration to the court and ordered them to pay significant part of Daioleslam's legal expenses. In his ruling judge wrote:

"In awarding sanctions, the Court is mindful not just of the need to compensate defendant (Daioleslam), but also of the need to deter plaintiffs (NIAC and Parsi) from future discovery abuses." 

On April 9, 2013, the court ordered NIAC to pay $183.000 to compensate Hassan Daioleslam's legal expenses. 

1- Excerpts from judge's decision to dismiss the case:

Nonetheless, virtually nothing in the truncated record relied on by the parties supports the proposition that defendant avoided his editors' questions and willfully avoided learning the truth. To the contrary, the record suggests that defendant and his editors were careful to substantiate his articles and that defendant engaged with those who questioned him. (P.14)

That Parsi occasionally made statements reflecting a balanced, sharedblame approach is not inconsistent with the idea that he was first and foremost an advocate for the regime. Given the other evidence defendant amassed to support his views, the Court sees no "actual malice" in defendant's decision to disregard occasional contrary statements and assume that they were made largely to burnish Parsi and NIAC's image in the United States. After all, any moderately intelligent agent for the Iranian regime would not want to be seen as unremittingly pro-regime, given the regime’s reputation in the United States. (p. 12)

The Court disagrees. While Parsi does criticize Iran's human rights record in the underlying article, his criticisms are tepid. A representative example is the following statement: "Even in long isolated Iran, a country known for its less than flattering Human Rights record, there is a trend toward the improvement of the human rights situation, although it remains far from being satisfactory."6 In this article Parsi does not come close to specifically condemning – or even mentioning – the "torture, mass executions, rapes of women in prison, and stoning" that defendant accuses him of ignoring. Moreover, the vast majority of the article is devoted to Parsi expressing his disappointment with the UCLA students who protested Kharazi's speech, not to discussing the regime's abuses. Hence, while defendant's article is certainly a strongly-worded and one-sided take on Parsi's underlying publication, it is not a distortion of the underlying publication that amounts to willful blindness or actual malice. (p. 13)

In sum, none of the communications from editors or other journalists provide any evidence that defendant had subjective doubts about his articles or willfully avoided the truth. (p.19)

What plaintiffs have overlooked is the possibility that defendant wants to discredit Parsi and "attack[] the whole web" because he genuinely believes that Parsi and his associates are advocating for or on behalf of a regime that he strongly opposes. That possibility is, in the Court's view, much more plausible than the idea that defendant's personal dislike of Parsi has motivated him to concoct dozens of elaborate articles discussing Parsi and the Iranian regime. (p.20)

2- Excerpts from Judge's decision to sanction NIAC for discovery abuses

Here, for instance, defendant has succeeded in obtaining partial fee-shifting for the PwC imaging. This fee-shifting is based on plaintiffs' discovery abuses, and defendant should not have to bear the costs of bringing those abuses to the attention of the Court. (p. 6)

Defendant has subpoenaed emails to or from NIAC employees from a number of third parties. Most of these emails are to or from NIAC employees in 2008 or 2009, and none were produced by NIAC But plaintiffs' failure to produce the other five categories of emails is indefensible, and plaintiffs made no coherent attempt to explain either in their briefing or at the motions hearing why all of these emails would not have been produced. Hrg. Tr. at 59. Most disturbingly, plaintiffs apparently gathered emails for their experts that they failed to produce to defendant, which clearly shows that plaintiffs' statement at the motions hearing that "[t]here may be technical explanations" for the failure to produce these documents is untrue. Given plaintiffs' inexplicable and unexplained behavior, it is appropriate to require them to pay the cost of serving the subpoenas (other than the subpoena to the Children of Persia employees) and the costs of bringing this portion of the instant motion. (p. 17-18)

the Court is troubled by the fact that it may be awarding sanctions based on conduct for which there is an innocent explanation that plaintiffs have simply failed to give. But plaintiffs have had more than sufficient opportunity to oppose the very clear claims in defendant's sanctions motion, and the Court cannot perpetually excuse their failure to do so. Because it seems quite clear that Parsi's interrogatory responses misrepresented when he had used the desktop – and because Parsi has never managed to explain what computer he was using during that time – some sanction is warranted.... Nonetheless, the Court believes that awarding the cost of this portion of the sanctions motion is appropriate here. In awarding sanctions, the Court is mindful not just of the need to compensate defendant, but also of the need to deter plaintiffs from future discovery abuses. (p. 22-23)

There is no question that plaintiffs have repeatedly tried to evade their discovery obligations, (p.23)

Plaintiffs must pay 60% of the expenses associated with bringing the instant motion. In addition, plaintiffs must pay for the last  wo rounds of PwC imaging; the expenses involved in bringing [112] defendant’s motion tocompel production of NIAC’s server; one-half of the expenses of Talebi’s deposition; the expenses associated with obtaining [93] the March 29, 2011 order relating to the Talebi emails; the expenses of serving the third-party subpoenas; the expenses involved in bringing [113] defendant’s motion to compel production of Salesforce data and membership lists; one-half of the expenses of the last half day of Parsi’s deposition; and one-half of the expenses of the second day of Blout’s deposition. (p. 25-26)

3- During the lawsuit, Hassan Daioleslam defended and reaffirmed his belief that Parsi and NIAC lobby for the Iranian regime

Hassan Daioleslam's " Reply to Opp to Motion to Dismiss", granted  by the judge:

http://iraniansforum.com/Document/ReplytoOppMotiontoDismiss.pdf

The Defendant properly pled and supported his allegation that he believes that his analysis of the Plaintiffs’ position is accurate. See Def. Motion to Dismiss, pp. 19-27; Afft. of Defendant at ¶¶ 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, and 13

Daioleslam's Motion to dismiss

http://iraniansforum.com/Document/MtntoDismiss.pdf

B. All defendant's Statements Are Substantially True (p.9)

The statements complained of regarding Parsi and NIAC’s lobbying activity are substantially true. Defendant has opined that Plaintiffs are important players in a lobby enterprise, lobbying on behalf of actions which are in line with the wishes and interests of the Iranian government. 10

It is true that the manner in which NIAC, and by extension Plaintiff Parsi as the President of NIAC seeks to have such legislators vote is in accord with the needs, interests and wishes of

the Iranian regime. (p. 10-11)

The Plaintiffs have not met their burden to show that the alleged defamatory statements

are untrue, (p. 13)

excerpts from Daioleslam's deposition quoted by Judge Bates in his decision

https://ecf.dcd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/show_public_doc?2008cv0705-189

Questioned by Parsi's lawyer:

Q: Do you consider Dr. Parsi to be a political activist?

A. I think so.

Q: Do you consider him to be part of the Iranian regime?

A: I believe that he has worked, he has lobbied in favor of the Iranian regime.

Q: So based upon your prior testimony it would be fair to say that you believe because he is a part of the Iranian regime that you have no obligation to verify the truth of the statement that you make about him?

A: My belief is that of course I would prefer to go to Mr. Parsi and NIAC and ask for help and clarification about what I thought in 2006 when I was working to investigate about them for many questions I had. The thing is that honestly I did not expect the truth from them. Mostly because I thought the first aspect of their work was deception and lie. . . . I mean that mistrust was so that I believed and I still believe for the relation and trust that existed between Mr. Parsi and the inner circle of the Iranian regime.

(Pls.' Opp., Ex. E at 35-36.)

Press article

Court House News Service: Ayatollah's Lobby Label Wasn't Defamation

Washington Free Beacon: Sanctioning Iran’s American Allies    

A lawyer in CA: Impudence Par Excellence!

Politico: Iranian-American group, leader lose libel case against writer