By Brian Fitzpatrick
© 2010 WorldNetDaily
A Florida judge has ordered lawyer Barry Silver to pay $45,273.90 in attorney’s fees to the attorneys representing Jews for Jesus in a suit filed by Silver.
The fees are intended to compensate Jews for Jesus for legal expenses incurred after Silver repeatedly refiled virtually identical suits against the organization when the initial suit had been dismissed for lack of merit.
The suit accuses Jews for Jesus of placing Silver’s client, Edith Rapp, in a “false light” by claiming untruthfully that Rapp had accepted the doctrinal teachings of Christianity, subjecting her to ridicule in her synagogue. Rapp’s stepson, Bruce, a member of Jews for Jesus, announced his stepmother’s conversion in a Jews for Jesus newsletter.
In his October 29 order, Palm Beach County circuit court judge Edward Fine declared that attorney Barry Silver was “engaging in bad faith litigation conduct.”
Silver told WND he plans to appeal the penalty, on the grounds that the Florida Supreme Court has ruled that his factual allegations do have merit, and he has filed another amended version of the case before the Florida courts. The case could have profound legal implications for First Amendment freedoms of speech and religion.
“He sought to use the court system to defame Jews for Jesus,” said attorney Mat Staver. “This attorney has allowed his hatred for Christianity to cloud his professional abilities. He has an animus against Christianity and has used this lawsuit as a polemic against Christianity and Jews for Jesus in spite of warnings from the court. The court awarded this sanction to stop this frivolous activity.”
Silver vehemently denies that he hates Christianity.
“The accusation that I am anti-Christian is completely false,” Silver told WND. “The allegations in this complaint are not that I am anti-Christian, but that my client finds it offensive to be described as a member of [Jews for Jesus].
“I’m a lawyer and a rabbi,” Silver told WND. “I’m one of the few rabbis who does interfaith weddings. I represent a Christian church, Westgate Tabernacle, I’ve been litigating pro bono for years in a conflict with the county about sheltering homeless people. I argued that is an infringement of their religious beliefs.”
Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, which is representing Jews for Jesus in the case, told WND that any payments would go to Liberty Counsel directly because the firm did not charge Jews for Jesus for its services.
Staver said Liberty Counsel would “begin the process of recovering the fees” following Judge Fine’s order, promising to “force a sale of property” if Silver fails to pay up.
“He has filed the same case over and over, he’s now on his fourth round,” Staver explained. “The first three were almost identical, and that’s what he got sanctioned for by this court.”
Silver’s first three versions of the complaint castigated Jews for Jesus harshly.
• Jews for Jesus uses “many false assertions and deceptions to try to induce members of the Jewish faith to abandon the beliefs of their heritage yet believe that they are still Jews,” Silver wrote.
• “Certain leaders of Jews for Jesus who are Christian, change their names in order to sound as if they were Jewish in order to make the organization seem more Jewish.”
• “Jews for Jesus targets elderly Jews for conversion in order to persuade them to leave all or some of their money to Jews for Jesus instead of their families when they die.”
Silver also accused Bruce Rapp of “fabricating” the story of his stepmother’s conversion in order to “bolster his credentials” in Jews for Jesus, and to “retaliate” for his stepmother’s resistance to his efforts to convert his father.
In the latest version of his complaint, Silver removes much of the inflammatory language describing Jews for Jesus.
The “false light” case could help “define and clarify the law of defamation in Florida,” said Silver.
“False light” cases are accepted in other states, but not yet in Florida, according to Staver.
The Liberty Counsel president said such cases threaten the First Amendment by lowering the standard required to pursue defamation cases. Under “false light,” defamatory statements need not be inaccurate, only “offensive,” to be legally actionable.