Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Fee Award Premature for Embattled NYC Imam

WASHINGTON (CN) - The imam behind plans for an Islamic community center near Ground Zero cannot yet seek attorneys' fees after averting defamation claims, a federal judge ruled.

As principal of the Malaysia-based nonprofit Cordoba Initiative Corp., Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf sparked controversy in 2010 with a plan to build an Islamic community center two blocks away from the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

Cordoba's mission calls for improving Muslim-West relations. Its center, the Cordoba House, was set to replace a 19th-century Italian Renaissance-style palazzo building that once housed a Burlington Coat Factory at 45-47 Park Place. The building proposal included a preschool, a special-needs center, a swimming pool, a 500-seat auditorium, art galleries and a top-floor sanctuary.

About a month after the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission refused to halt the project by granting the site landmark status, attorney Larry Klayman sued Imam Rauf on behalf of Vincent Forras, a self-described first responder during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Their complaint against Rauf in New York challenged the community center as a nuisance and an assault that caused Forras emotional distress.

In his motion to dismiss the complaint, Rauf's attorney Adam Leitman Bailey said Forras had traded in his hero status "for fifteen minutes of fame as a nationally recognized bigot." The motion also called Klayman "an infamous publicity hound."

"His cause and his case have all the rationality of one who would seek to tear down New York City's Chinatown as vengeance for Pearl Harbor on the theory that all Asians are alike," Bailey wrote.

Klayman lost a motion for sanctions and later the case.

He and Forras then sued Rauf and Bailey in Washington for defamation, false light, assault and infliction of emotional distress, claiming that the language of the dismissal motion prompted radical Muslims to put a fatwa on them.

After U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein dismissed the complaint earlier this year, Rauf and Bailey sought attorneys' fees.

Because Klayman and Forras are appealing the dismissal of their case, however, Rothstein held the attorneys' fees motion in abeyance on Thursday.

The five-page order also rejects a motion by Klayman and Forras for reconsideration of her April dismissal order.

Klayman, the conservative head of activist group Freedom Watch, is no stranger to failure in D.C. Federal Court.

In 2011, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly scolded Klayman for his "consistent pattern of engaging in dilatory tactics" and disobedience of the court.

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