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New York court rejects AIDS denialist case against leading HIV community activist and journalist

Simon Collins, HIV i-Base

It is with great pleasure, and considerable relief that we report that the New York State Supreme Court Justice Louis B. York granted summary judgment in favor of Richard Jefferys in a defamation lawsuit brought by an AIDS denialist named Celia Farber. [1] Jefferys was represented in the case by Joseph Evall of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

The suit against Jefferys arose out of a May 12, 2008, comment he submitted via the now-defunct website for “Whistleblower Week,” conference. [2]

Jefferys was responding to an announcement that one of the conference sponsors was planning invite the AIDS denialists Celia Farber and Peter Duesberg to testify before a “tribunal” (including several Congresspeople), in the guise of whistleblowers.

In his comment, Jefferys asserted that Farber and Duesberg “are not whistleblowers, they are simply liars who for many years have used fraud to argue for Duesberg’s long-discredited theory that drug use and malnutrition – not HIV – cause AIDS.”

Jefferys wrote that he could provide “many, many examples, including their altering of quotes from the scientific literature, false representations of published papers, etc.” He stated that including Farber and Duesberg in this event “will, regrettably, discredit and demean your efforts to support the very real issues of recrimination against legitimate whistleblowers.”

Justice York found Farber to be a “limited purpose public figure,” which means that a defamation case can only be sustained if the alleged defamatory comments were malicious and knowingly false. Also, since HIV is a matter of public concern and debate, Jefferys would have to be shown to have been grossly negligent regarding the factual accuracy of his statements.

Justice York decided that Jefferys comments reflected his sincere and informed opinions and therefore met neither of these criteria. Justice York’s full opinion, which is available on the New York Courts website [3], provides a potted history of the AIDS denialism controversy and Celia Farber’s role within that controversy. But this decision is not a judicial verdict on AIDS denialism. Instead, it is a strong defense of freedom of speech on contested questions of public policy.

NY Law School Professor Arthur Leonard wrote: “In effect, Farber was contending that defamation law can be used to stifle criticism of a controversial position on a matter of great public importance.”

This report is edited from Arthur S. Leonard’s excellent detailed legal analysis of this case. [1]

References:

  1. New York Court Rejects Journalist’s Defamation Claim Against AIDS Activist. (12 November 2011).
    http://newyorklawschool.typepad.com/leonardlink/2011/11/new-york-court-rejects-journalists-defamation-claim-against-aids-activist.html
  2. Whistleblower Week In Washington (May 12-16 2008)
    http://web.archive.org/web/20080517225306/http://www.w3conference.org/contact.htm
  3. Justice York, Supreme Court, New York. (09 November 2011).
    http://decisions.courts.state.ny.us/fcas/fcas_docs/2011NOV/3001063992009001SCIV.pdf

Links to other websites are current at date of posting but not maintained.