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Christian Right Figures Back John Stemberger in Legal Dispute

A rare public statement from Rifqa Bary, who has been off the public radar for a while:

Would you please help my friend and lawyer John Stemberger? He defended me at no cost and helped me gained my freedom and is now being attacked by the Muslims lawyer who opposed me in court. Thank yo ufor supporting me. Will you now also help and support John?

Bary’s plea headlines the website of The Stemberger Legal Defense Fund, which explains its purpose in a blurb:

After Rifqa Bary’s legal team won her case and secured her freedom, Omar Tarazi, the lawyer who opposed Rifqa Bary and represented her parents in the Ohio case, retaliated against John Stemberger, who was Rifqa’s lawyer, by filing two separate actions against him. One was a federal defamation lawsuit for 10 million dollars in federal court.  The other was a complaint or a grievance with the Florida Bar asking for Stemberger to be disciplined.  Tarzi, who lost his client’s case and is disgruntled, is now using this frivolous lawsuit and merit-less charges as a means of “lawfare” to punish John.

This slightly glosses over the fact that the Florida Bar has already come to a conclusion about Stemberger; as the Orlando Sentinel reported in September:

The Bar on Thursday officially notified his attorney that, following an investigation, a grievance committee has concluded that Stemberger is guilty of professional misconduct and should be prosecuted at a trial-like proceeding that could lead to sanctions.

The Bar filed a complaint with the Florida Supreme Court on 4 January.

The Columbus Dispatch quoted Tarazi in September:

His complaint states that Stemberger falsely said that Tarazi was being paid by an organization with ties to terrorists and that, essentially, Tarazi was not a qualified attorney.

“Potential clients that do a simple web search to check on plaintiff’s credentials will find these accusations of perjury, conflict of interest, being unqualified as an attorney,” as well as claims that Tarazi was a member of Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the United States, the suit says.

“I’m saying I’m not going to take this,” Tarazi said today. “It affects my job, my career, it affects everything. It’s pushback to say that you can’t just call someone a terrorist with no basis and get away with it.”

The Stemberger website has quotes from various well-know Christian Right figures, including William Boykin (“the Islamic elements in America want to destroy him. Keep fighting, John”), David Barton (“The Founding Fathers created the First Amendment to protect exactly the type of political and religious speech involved in this case”), Tony Perkins (who blames “political correctness”), and Lou Engle (“I was thrilled to see John Stemberger’s courageous defense of Rifqa Bary, our precious sister” – background here). There’s also local support from Tom Trento of the Florida Security Council (“this insidious ‘lawfare’ attack from those who failed in their attack against Rifqa”) and from Pastors Blake and Beverly Lorenz, who took Bary in when she arrived in Florida. According to them:

John Stemberger played the role of a modern day hero in defending Rifqa Bary against Muslim enforced Sharia Law. He in fact, played a major part in saving this young girl’s life and helping to obtain her freedom in this country.

Also on the list is Newt Gingrich, whose shamelessly opportunistic identification with the Christian Right is one of the more laughable sights in American politics. This would the same Newt Gingrinch, by the way, who in 2008 said that Saturday Night Live should be sued for making fun of Sarah Palin.

However, one name is conspicuously absent: Pamela Geller, who is also being sued by Tarazi. Geller and Stemberger fell out a while ago, and she has denounced him as a “svengali lawyer” and as a “clown”. Geller’s take was supported by Jamal Jivanjee, a pastor who was in contact with Bary in Ohio. It will surely be galling for Geller to see such generous praise being heaped on Stemberger from these quarters: Boykin recently spoke alongside her close associate Robert Spencer at an event organised by Walid Shoebat’s handlers, and she and Spencer recently joined Gingrich at a David Horowitz Freedom Center event where she received an award. In the case of the Lorenzes, a year ago Geller wrote a typically vitriolic post defending them from censure by their church board, whom she heaped with her usual abuses and wild accusations.

As for her own defence against Tarazi, she has retained the services of David Yerushalmi (whom I blogged on here) and Robert Muise. The legal argument is long and inevitably difficult to penetrate, but the thrust of it is that she simply repeated things in good faith which Stemberger had assured her had been true:

Plaintiff informs us (under oath) that Defendant Geller’s statement that “it is being reported that Omar Tarazi perjured himself” is true because Plaintiff identifies the source of this statement as Defendant Stemberger, a Florida attorney, officer of the court, and a member of Rifqa’s legal team in the Florida litigation over jurisdiction. Moreover, Plaintiff alleges further that the Web site that actually started the “[I]nternet claim” was “the Jawa Blog.”

In an apparent attempt, however, to establish “fault,” whether negligence or actual malice is not clear from the pleading, Plaintiff effectively implies in this that Defendant Geller had the affirmative duty to fly from New York City to Columbus, Ohio in order to inspect the juvenile court documents before reporting on what an attorney who had been directly involved in the case (and who was still publicly identified as an advisor to Rifqa) was saying publicly through Web sites about the ongoing Rifqa Bary legal battle…

Geller is not adverse to making legal threats of her own – back in June she threatened to sue the Washington Post for calling her “anti-Muslim”.