Outmatched and outgunned, Bank Julius Baer
announced Wednesday that it dropped its lawsuit against whistleblower site WikiLeaks,
halting a series of legal proceedings that took the site’s US domain name offline for two weeks.
In court filings posted yesterday,
Julius Baer gave no explanation for its choice to dismiss the suit, only noting
that it reserves the right to pursue its claims in another court, including an
“alternate court, jurisdiction or venue.”
The WikiLeaks.org domain name was
taken offline mid-February after lawyers for Bank Julius Baer held an ex
parte hearing that forced WikiLeaks’ U.S. domain registrar, DynaDot, to
delete the domain's DNS records after talks to remove a series of leaked
documents failed. The move sparked an outcry amongst legal observers and human
rights groups who, concerned about violations of the First Amendment and the
court’s suppression of free speech, feared the dangerous precedent that would
be set if the case went unchallenged.
Lawyers for Julius Baer maintained
that all it wanted to do was have its documents removed,
and that moving to close the site was a last resort after other solutions failed.
Two weeks later – one week ago
Thursday – a phalanx of industry lawyers from the EFF, ACLU, Public Citizen,
and a number of other civil rights groups announced that they would intervene in the case.
The following Friday morning, Judge White reversed his prior injunction after four hours of
legal deliberations, and the WikiLeaks.org domain was restored to an
Paul Alan Levy, of the Public
Citizen Litigation Group, attributes Julius Baer’s decision to drop the case on
a couple of factors:
Legal analysts also pointed out a
number of other weaknesses in the case, including the courts’ failure to adhere
to strict rules on restricting First Amendment rights, and jurisdictional
issues related to the fact that one foreign entity (Julius Baer, based in
Switzerland) is suing another foreign entity (WikiLeaks has no official
country, executive staff, or leadership structure – only a list of advisors) in
US courts; the registrant of the WikiLeaks.org domain name, John Shipton, is a
citizen of Australia and currently resides in Kenya.
“We voluntarily backed out at this
point but retained the right to pursue it further if the bank decides they want
to do that,” says Julius Baer spokeswoman Jenna Agins.
Shipton’s attorney, Roger Myers,
says his client does no business in California and has little control over the
documents posted to WikiLeaks.
“[Julius Baer would] have to come up
with a theory about who they could sue, and why, in California,” says Myers.