ADL will continue to fight $9.7 million jury award

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DENVER — With a $10 million guillotine threatening to fall, the Anti-Defamation League will continue fighting a legal battle that began at a press conference here nine years ago.

A federal appeals court in Denver ruled April 22 to uphold a $9.75 million jury award against the ADL and Saul Rosenthal, then Mountain States regional director, for publicly calling an Evergreen, Colo., couple dangerous anti-Semites in 1994.

William and Dee Quigley, who filed a federal lawsuit against the ADL and Rosenthal in 1995, received a $10.5 million jury award in April, 2000.

The ADL, whose annual national budget is $45 million, appealed the verdict the following month.

In April, 2001, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Nottingham reduced the award to $9.75 million. The relatively small reduction appeared to support the jury's conclusion that the ADL had "acted recklessly in its efforts to publicize what it perceived to be anti-Semitic conduct."

The most recent decision on April 22 was handed down by a three judge panel from U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, with one judge dissenting.

Judge Harris Hartz of New Mexico wrote in his dissenting opinion that he would have dismissed the defamation complaint and remanded the case for a new trial.

The ADL is now filing a petition for a rehearing en banc, meaning it will be reviewed by all active judges on the U.S. 10th Circuit Court. Only if one of the judges calls for a vote on the petition will the judges decide whether the full court will hear the case.

The first hurdle faced by the ADL is getting a majority of active judges to agree to hear the case.

"We have a lot of confidence in the appellate judges and the court," ADL corporate counsel Jill Kahn Meltzer told the Intermountain Jewish News. "We will try to convince them that the dissenting opinion was correct."

In 1994, the regional ADL office held a press conference in support of Mitchell and Candace Aronson, a Jewish couple who alleged the Quigleys were conducting a vicious anti-Semitic campaign to force them from their Evergreen neighborhood.

The Aronsons had secretly taped cordless phone conversations made by the Quigleys, who talked about putting fake oven doors on the Aronson home, a reference to the Holocaust; dousing their children in gasoline; and burning crosses on the Aronsons' lawn.

At the press conference, Rosenthal denounced the Quigleys' conversations "as the worst case of anti-Semitism in Denver" since the murder of talk-show host Alan Berg in 1984.

The Quigleys, who maintained they made those and similar remarks in jest and never intended them to be taken seriously, sued the ADL and Rosenthal in 1995 for defamation, violations of federal wire tap law and invasion of privacy.

The federal panel threw out the invasion of privacy claims on April 22 but let the defamation and federal wire tap claims — and the monetary award — stand.

Rosenthal, who left the ADL to pursue other career opportunities in October, 2001, after 18 years at the helm of the local office, told the IJN he was unable to comment because the attorneys were handling all media responses.

Mountain States area director Bruce DeBoskey, who inherited the situation when he became regional head in February, 2002, spoke to the IJN from the ADL's national leadership conference in Washington, D.C.

"We're obviously disappointed but we are heartened by the dissenting judge and his arguments," DeBoskey said.