Swiss bank drops suit against
San Francisco Chronicle
Thursday, March 6, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO -- A Swiss bank dropped its lawsuit Wednesday
against the whistle-blowers Web site Wikileaks, which also
compiles the whistleblower files on Kenya, after stirring up a
free-speech furor over a judge's order, now rescinded, to shut
down the site for allowing the posting of private bank documents.
Julius Baer & Co. filed a brief notice of dismissal in U.S.
District Court in San Francisco, saying it reserves the right to
pursue its case at a later date in the same court or elsewhere.
The bank's lawyers had said after a hearing Friday that they were
willing to refile the suit in a state court, but the bank gave no
indication Wednesday that it had any such plans.
"We voluntarily backed out at this point but retained the right to
pursue it further if the bank decides they want to do that," said
Jenna Agins, spokeswoman at the public relations firm that
represents Julius Baer.
The dismissal follows Friday's order by U.S. District Judge
Jeffrey White withdrawing the injunction he had issued Feb. 15
requiring a Bay Area Internet registrar to disable the
Wikileaks.org site and prevent the organization from transferring
to another server.
White had ordered the shutdown after it was negotiated by Julius
Baer and Dynadot, the San Mateo company that registered Wikileaks'
use of the Web site. Julius Baer was reacting to the anonymous
posting of bank documents purporting to show tax fraud and
money-laundering by its customers in the Cayman Islands. The bank
said the documents were stolen or forged and invaded its customers'
The injunction touched off a blizzard of protests from civil
liberties groups and media advocates and owners, including Hearst
Corp., which owns The Chronicle. They likened the order to a
shutdown of a newspaper because of objections to a single article.
White said Friday that his injunction may have been a restraint on
free speech, in violation of the First Amendment. He also rejected
the bank's request to extend a restraining order, which expired
Friday, requiring Wikileaks and Dynadot to remove the bank
documents from the Web site.
The judge said any injunction against Internet posting was likely
to be ineffective, because the documents had been publicly
displayed and could be transferred to other sites. White said
Julius Baer could keep its federal court suit alive, but he
suggested that the bank "take a deep breath" and "consider whether
there may be other ways to achieve the same goals."
Wikileaks, founded in 2006, invites government and corporate
insiders to post documents showing high-level wrongdoing, and
disclaims responsibility for the contents. It has a Web server in
Sweden but no established headquarters, president or formal
leadership structure, only an advisory board, according to its Web
site. The bank documents remained available at other online
locations during White's injunction.
Lawyers who opposed the suit said Wednesday that they hadn't been
informed of the reasons for the dismissal but hoped the bank now
realized its case was futile.
"I think they're in a legal pickle and there's no way out for them,
and I hope this dismissal is a recognition of that - cut your
losses and hope the story goes away," said Steven Mayer, attorney
for an organization called the Project on Government Oversight.
A lawyer for John Shipman, who owns the Wikileaks.org domain name,
said he didn't see how the bank could sue either Shipman or
Wikileaks in federal or state court.
Shipman, an Australian living in Kenya, does no business in
California and has no control over any documents posted on the Web
site, attorney Roger Myers said.
"They'd have to come up with a theory about who they could sue,
and why, in California," Myers said.