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U.S. Gouges Terror Victims|to Process Damage Awards

WASHINGTON (CN) - A federal judge said there is nothing he can do to ease the prohibitive costs that the U.S. government charges victims of terrorism to serve notice of judgments on foreign parties that financed acts of terror.

"The federal government has promised victims of terrorism a forum and opportunity to seek compensation for their devastating losses, exploited this glimmer of hope to extract exorbitant fees from those victims, and then actively undermined those victims' efforts to obtain satisfaction of legal and valid judgments in order to protect its own coffers," U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth wrote.

In September 2010, Lamberth awarded nearly $92 million to survivors and relatives of those killed or injured in the 1983 suicide bombing of U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. Carried out by members of Hezbollah, the Beirut bombing killed 241 servicemen and injured many others, making it the deadliest state-sponsored terrorist attack until Sept. 11, 2001.

To enforce the judgment against Iran and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security, the plaintiffs must serve both defendants. Last week, Lamberth denied the plaintiffs' motion to serve only Iran, but issued an extension so they can meet the "substantial fee-hike" to do so.

The State Department recently raised the fee for service under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, bringing it to $2,275 for processing FSIA judicial-assistance cases. The U.S. charges "multiple fees where multiple defendants are involved in a case," according to the ruling.

"The Court is also troubled by the purported necessity of such a large fee for what is a simple ministerial task," Lamberth wrote. "The process of serving documents through diplomatic channels requires the State Department to send the papers from Washington to its Embassy in Switzerland, deliver - through the Swiss - those documents to the Iranian Embassy, and then send a letter to the Court confirming that service was completed. How some paperwork and a few postage stamps are capable of generating over $2000 in expenses is a product of creative accounting that is simply beyond the financial wherewithal of this Court."

Lamberth gave the plaintiffs an additional 21 days to come up with the fees to serve both parties by diplomatic means.

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