Law as a Tool to Influence Society
Law as a Tool to Influence Society Written by Robert J. Kopka, Managing Partner
Published in KPD Connect, October 2016
I met Micah Avni the day after a domestic terrorist placed an explosive device on a street, injuring 29 people. We were both in New York attending a seminar on terrorism sponsored by Shurat Hadin, the Israel Law Center, a not-for-profit law firm run by my friend Nitsana Darshan-Leitner. Shurat Hadin represents victims of terror from around the world and, on their behalf, pursues claims against terror organizations, state sponsors of terror and legitimate businesses that willingly and unwillingly assist the terrorists.
Micah spoke at the conference about his father, Richard Lakin, of blessed memory, who was 76 years old when he was shot in the head and then stabbed multiple times by two Palestinian teenagers while riding home on a Jerusalem city bus in October 2015.
Richard Lakin had dedicated his life to the cause of Arab-Israeli reconciliation and peace. He marched with Martin Luther King Jr. before moving to Israel. In Israel, he founded Hand-in-Hand, Jerusalem’s joint Arab-Jewish school. An avid advocate of social media, he was a co-founder of Israel Loves Iran, a social media initiative designed to bring the citizens of these two nations closer together. But, as Micah explained, it was social media that may have contributed to his father’s murder. One of the attackers, Bahas Alian, had announced his plans on Facebook. There was a video enactment of the bus attack “to encourage others to take similar action.” There were specific instructions on how to slice someone’s chest open, as was done to Mr. Lakin.
Shurat Hadin is an Israeli civil rights law firm that pursues claims, in part to secure monetary awards, and in part to spur governmental and corporate action. Shurat Hadin has secured more than a billion dollars in judgments for their clients; but their collection efforts are often stymied. In many ways, they pursue the claims in order to influence public opinion and corporate behavior. For them, lawsuits are a front-line in the war on terror.
Society is just beginning to understand the power and reach of social media. Technology now permits people with nefarious agendas to communicate directly with complete strangers. How do these so-called “lone wolf” attacks occur and what can we do to prevent them?
Shurat Hadin signed Micah as a client. Their focus: social media platforms that turn a blind eye to terrorism and incitement.
There have been numerous examples of how “lone wolf” attackers are aided, abetted, encouraged, and celebrated on Facebook and other social media platforms. Yet, too often, these social media giants refuse to remove inciteful content under cover of the First Amendment.
Shurat Hadin set up an experiment to trap Facebook in advance of filing a lawsuit.
It posted its own hate sites: one advocating hatred of Israel, and another identical site, advocating hatred of Palestine. They ramped up the hateful content posted on the sites, in tandem, until both sites were advocating murder. Then, they wrote two separate emails to Facebook, each respectively demanding the removal of one of the offensive sites. Within minutes Facebook shut down the site advocating death to Palestine. A day later, Facebook responded to the email regarding the death to Israel site, declining to take it down, explaining that they have determined that the death to Israel site doesn’t offend community standards.
That was the opening they needed. Shurat Hadin filed suit against Facebook in Federal Court in New York, for aiding and abetting terrorism. Facebook, represented by Kirkland & Ellis, sent a first year associate to the initial hearing. Incensed, the Judge admonished Facebook in open court, demanding that they send a partner who will talk to senior management at Facebook, not only about their legal responsibility, but their civic responsibility.
Facebook will have to explain why a site advocating death to Israel did not offend community standards when the identical site advocating death to Palestine did. Ultimately Facebook will have to respond to the pressure of adverse publicity surrounding the use of social media to further causes that are contrary to the safety and well-being of our society. In this way, lawsuits, such as Micah Avni’s lawsuit against Facebook, constitutes a civic service in the interest of improving our society.
Lawsuits are tools in our civil society, and often a means to resolve conflict between citizens. However, they also send a message to our citizens. They can influence large corporations, powerful forces, and ordinary citizens to modify their behavior and assume civic duties which benefit society. There are times when we lose a battle, but can win a war. And sometimes, lawsuits are a viable tool in the war for social justice.
While we at Kopka Pinkus Dolin do not fight battles on the scale of Shurat Hadin, we do fight battles for civic justice. By our victories, we can positively influence our society. When Detroit partners, Mark Dolin and Bob Abramson, obtain a jury trial verdict against a plaintiff based upon her fraudulent claim, and Gene Pinkus and his team uncover and successfully deny fraudulent claims, we are influencing our society to desist from making unsubstantiated claims. When Indiana partners, Brooke Riffell and Leslie Pollie, defeat class action status in claims against municipalities, and when Indiana partner, Sheri Bradtke McNeil, successfully defends municipal police departments we are making social policy in favor of local cities and police. When Indiana partner, Deb Kapitan, convinces the Indiana Supreme court to uphold the trial court’s ruling allowing her expert’s opinion into evidence, we are influencing the way trials are conducted. When we participate in industry groups such as TIDA and NRRDA, we assist our clients in establishing tighter risk management procedures to avoid civil liability, and protect customers and end- users from injury.
Corporations are citizens. They have rights but they also have civic responsibilities. We can take great pride that our profession, when practiced well, has a positive influence on society.