Swiss bank in Wikileaks case abruptly abandons lawsuit

After a federal judge in San Francisco rebuffed its claims, Bank Julius Baer is abandoning (at least for now) the lawsuit that sought to muzzle Wikileaks.org.

A Swiss bank that successfully sued to yank the Wikileaks.org domain name, and then faced a severe setback in a subsequent court ruling, has given up for now.

Bank Julius Baer filed a brief note with a court in San Francisco Wednesday saying it would voluntarily dismiss its own case, while reserving the right to file it again in the future or pursue it "in an alternate court, jurisdiction, or venue."

BJB's sudden move comes a few days after U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White reversed his earlier ruling (which pulled the plug on the Wikileaks.org domain) and said he was skeptical of the bank's ability to win the suit.

"This dismissal comes in the wake of our private warning to the bank's counsel that, if the case were not dismissed, not only the existing defendants but the intervening defendants such as Public Citizen and the California First Amendment Project could seek attorneys' fees under California law that is designed to protect the exercise of First Amendment rights on matters of public interest against meritless lawsuits such as this one," said Paul Levy, an attorney with Public Citizen who filed a motion to intervene in the case and argued before White last Friday.

After Public Citizen and a host of other groups--including the California First Amendment Coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Project on Government Oversight, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation--presented their arguments, White seemed to have a change of heart. His written order dissolving the injunctions said he had concerns about whether the court had jurisdiction over the case and whether the injunction would even be halfway effective. The order said he also had concerns that an injunction could violate the free speech rights protected by the First Amendment.

White's original rulings did two things: First, they ordered the Dynadot domain registrar to suspend the Wikileaks.org registration and prevent the transfer to another registrar. Second, in the order against Wikileaks itself, he said the defendants were "enjoined from displaying, posting, publishing, distributing, linking to, and/or otherwise providing any information" that the Bank Julius Baer considers to be confidential. The bank boasts that it is the "leading dedicated wealth manager in Switzerland."

Wikileaks' summary of the leaked documents centers on Rudolf Elmer, the former chief operating officer of Bank Julius Baer in the Cayman Islands. The summary alleges that the bank supports "ultra-rich's offshore tax avoidance, tax evasion, asset hiding and money laundering."

The bank had said in a statement last week: "The documents in question are protected and prohibited from unauthorized publication under U.S., California, and foreign consumer banking and privacy protection laws. The posting of confidential bank records by anonymous sources significantly harms the privacy rights of all individuals." It also added, referring to Wikileaks' summary: "Julius Baer denies the authenticity of this material and wholly rejects the serious and defamatory allegations which it contains."

 

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