In the Dock, in Paris – The Judgment

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UPDATE: The full text of the Judgment is now available below; some minor technical issues were fixed.

UPDATE 2: An unofficial translation of the Judgment into English is now available here.

On March 3, 2011, the Tribunal de Grand Instance de Paris issued its decision in the Criminal Libel Case brought against me based on a complaint by Dr Karine Calvo-Goller. It would appear that the Court ruled in our favor on all issues.

As will be recalled, the case was brought in my capacity as Editor in Chief of the European Journal of International Law and its associated Book Review website It was brought as a result of my refusal to remove a Review, written by the distinguished German academic Thomas Weigend, critical of a book written by Dr Karin Calvo-Goller. Dr Calvo-Goller claimed the Review was libelous and demanded its suppression. I offered her a right-of-reply which was declined. Since I did not consider the Review libelous its removal in my view would have seriously compromised academic freedom and the intellectual integrity of EJIL and book reviewing generally. For full details see here.

The Trial took place in Paris on January 20th, 2011 – see here.

Represented by Maitre Thierry Marembert and Cécile Labarbe of the Paris Law Firm Kiejman & Marembert, we made two principal arguments in defense: First, that the Court should not exercise jurisdiction — the case being too remote from France; and second, that it should rule that in the circumstances of the case, initiating a criminal complaint amounted to an abuse of process by the Complainant.

In its Judgment, the Court upheld both claims. On the jurisdictional issue, a highly technical part of the Judgment, it seems to have ruled that although available on the internet, the Complainant did not prove to its satisfaction that the Review was actually accessed in France during the period within which a criminal complaint had to be filed. The full Judgment in French and a translation will be posted on the EJIL blog – in the next few days. [UPDATE: The full text of the Judgment in French is now available here.]

In ruling on the issue of abuse of process by the Complainant, the Court was able to address the merits of the case. The following are excerpts from the Judgment in unofficial translation.

“….As regards the choice made by the Complainant to invoke French criminal proceedings, though [Karine Calvo-Goller] holds dual French and Israeli nationality, she resides and works in Israel, the book which is the subject of proceedings was written in English, as was the Book Review; [it was] published on an American website, linked to an American university at which Joseph Weiler works; [the Complainant] explained to the Court that she chose to use the French rather than the American or Israeli systems for financial reasons –the cost of proceedings would have been more expensive for her- as well as for reasons of expediency, being of the view that only French law offered her a chance of success;

… Karine Calvo-Goller thus acknowledges having engaged in what one can call “forum shopping”, that is to say a worldwide search, for the legal system which seems the most favorable to the person initiating legal proceedings, and which places her opponent, as much for legal reasons as for practical reasons — geographical or cultural remoteness — in the least favorable situation….[T]he artificial choice in this case, of the French legal system, coupled with the choice of pursuing a criminal procedure by means of a complaint to an Investigating Judge resulting in both opprobrium and significant costs to the accused, characterizes the abuse of these proceedings;

… Karine Calvo-Goller failed to comprehend [respect] the scope of French Press law stating that the Review which was made the subject of the proceedings could be held to be defamatory…. [I]n effect, the Review of her book does not contain words damaging her honor or her reputation, and only expresses, what is more, in moderate terms, a scientific opinion on [her book] without ever exceeding the limits of free criticism to which all authors of intellectual works expose themselves;

… The bad faith of the Complainant –a lawyer, moreover one familiar with French law given her indication that she pursued her law studies in France- is therefore undeniably established;

….It is therefore with just cause, that Joseph Weiler believes that the [Complainant] has abused her right to bring legal proceedings, on the one hand by initiating an action for defamation in relation to words that do not go beyond the limits of academic criticism, an essential element of academic freedom and freedom of expression and, on the other hand, by artificially bringing proceedings through the French criminal justice system.”

Considering the resulting harm suffered by the accused, he will be justly compensated by judgment against the Complainant requiring her to pay to him the sum of €8,000.” [about US$ 11,000]

I hope this brings this sad saga to an end though it should be noted that the Complainant has a right of appeal.

Be that as it may, I would like to thank my legal team, the Dean and faculty of NYU School of Law for moral and material support, and the many letters of encouragement by friends and strangers from around the world. Naturally, any damages will be donated to a charitable cause. As for the Judgment, I will follow the wisdom of the Sages, “Whoever Adds, Detracts.”

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PWN3D says

March 4, 2011


Ricardo Barrera says

March 4, 2011

Way to go, Joe. A word from the Wizard of Oz: Courage!

Miriam Aziz says

March 4, 2011

This news is both wonderful and reassuring.
best wishes,
Miriam (Aziz)

Ariel Katz says

March 4, 2011

Congratulations. I hope this decision indeed brings an end to this shameful lawsuit.

Wayne McIntosh says

March 5, 2011

This is excellent news. I hope this brings the case entirely to an end. Best wishes.

Mel says

March 5, 2011

French judges rule.

Mihai Martoiu Ticu says

March 5, 2011

If I may cite from the book review: "But her conceptual grasp of the “inquisitorial” systems seems insufficient for a critical analysis that might go beneath the surface." She probably wanted to prove that she knows what the Inquisition is.

Chris Marsden says

March 6, 2011

Dear Prof. Weiler
My recently deceased eminent colleague Kevin Boyle had followed this case as closely as his declining health allowed - I am delighted in particular that the court found the abuse of process point in your favour. I have blogged for my students and Law School staff at the URL above.
My commiserations for your forced entry into libel law and conflicts via Internet publication - but your case will be cited by freedom of expression lawyers for many years.
Chris Marsden

Henry C. Clark says

March 6, 2011

Congratulations and thank you for the grace and discretion of your brief report.

Marian Ahumada says

March 6, 2011


Eric Rasmusen says

March 7, 2011

You should get attorney's fees too. Do you? If not, $11,000 is far too little for compensation.

Even if the attorneys did this for you pro bono, they should be compensated, and compensated by the plaintiff. That's the everyday notion of justice, and we in law-and-economics note that such a policy is good for reducing the number of harassing suits.

Rima says

March 7, 2011

Cogratulations! Let it be a lesson to anyone who wants to cross American borders to stifle public opinion or deny professional criticism.

Matt says

March 7, 2011

well done on this. followed up from techdirt, good to see things happen in the right way for someone. I'm amazed she would try to forum shop, but then again so do large corporations just as much as private citizens.

Margarita Lacabe says

March 7, 2011

Congratulations! This is a victory not just for you, but for freedom of speech and academic freedom. Thank you for fighting this to the end!

The Atheist Missionary says

March 8, 2011

It's refreshing to see that the law is not an ass after all.

kali says

March 8, 2011

awesome outcome

Martha Craig Daughtrey says

March 9, 2011

Prof. Weiler, this is a "voice" from your past sending congratulations and best wishes. I have followed this litigation with interest and can only hope that there will be no appeal! Mazel tov.

Audrey Guinchard says

March 10, 2011

Dear Prof. Weiler,

I have just read the judgment and I think it is a cleverly crafted and thought through judgment, typical of a French libel case. Regarding jurisdiction, it does not say France could not have been competent; it says that the complainant did not prove access to the American website from French territory during the period of 3 months, a period which once has expired, forbids any prosecution (=statutory limitation) for libel. It highlights the fact that Dr Calvo-Goller did not live in France or was not enough affiliated with French academics (for example) that could have been aware of the article and who could have alerted her. In comparison to Yahoo!, I believe the latter was different because it was proven that the litigious objects published on Yahoo! were accessed regularly and from French territory; plus it was not a libel case (so no need of a period of 3 months). So no contradiction in my view in terms of applying the law. One can only criticise that for libel there is a limit of 3 months, but not otherwise. On the other hand, the period of 3 months stems out of the rationale that passed 3 months the damage to the honour and reputation of the complainant has decreased because people forget!
Regarding the forum shopping, the court's judgment was a very strong rebuff. It did not appreciate being taken for a fool and that the French taxpayer was expected to pay for the expenses of the case because somebody did not want to spend the money needed for trial in the US or Canada. The court also used the issue to comment on the validity of the claim (on the contents this time) in a typical libel case fashion with a very short statement that says they did not think the article was anything but a scientific opinion, an expression that implies balance in the arguments put forward in the article that was alleged to be libel. I also wonder to which extent the paragraph on forum shopping in the judgment is not a comment on the lack of awareness by the complainant of what libel laws are in France in terms of what they perceive to be a libel or not when academic articles are at stake.
So overall I am glad it ended this way and it is a warning to those using forum shopping.

Pete Morin says

March 10, 2011

Congratulations, Mr. Weiler.

As a trial lawyer in the US who defends free speech, I hope you will pursue the remedy given you and discourage another thin-skinned author from attempting to repeat this folly without consequence.

Stephen M (Ethesis) says

March 11, 2011

I'm curious if you get contempt orders in support of collecting the judgment and if there is a corresponding criminal action that can be filed as a result of the findings.

I'm also curious how this has affected the complainant in her home institution. Is there additional real world fall-out from this, besides the utter ruin of Dr Karin Calvo-Goller's reputation that this suit has created.

Judit Magyar says

March 13, 2011

Dear Prof. Weiler,
We were all delighted to read the outcome of the case. Long live academic freedom and those who uphold it!
Judit Magyar
Waseda University, Tokyo

danny bloom says

March 14, 2011

Judit Magyar
Karin's career is not ruined or over. Life goes on. She lost. case closed. see her pov at the new CHE

PH says

March 14, 2011

Congratulations. It may not be obvious to non french-speaking readers, but the judgement is the legal equivalent of a KO at first round. Judges were quite obviously upset that such a thing could even happen in first place. Even tough the plaintiff has the right to appeal, given the tone of the judgment, she would be really (really, really) ill-advised to do so. Unless, of course, she wants to give you more money.

The relatively low sum (8000 €) is explained by the fact that French courts are not supposed to rule Israelian-American trials, and don't have the legal tools to do it properly.

Mal says

March 23, 2011

Delightful news, warmest congratulations to Prof. Weiler and above all thanks to him for putting his life on hold and his career and reputation on the line to fight and win on this matter on behalf of countless other authors, reviewers, and publishers, not to mention the public, which depends on honest criticism.

Tom Field says

March 31, 2011

Is there nothing equivalent to prosecutorial discretion in France? Surely the criminal system is not handed a blank checkbook.