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3/6/2008
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Swiss Bank Abandons Lawsuit Against Wikileaks

The wiki had posted financial documents it said proved tax evasion by Bank Julius Baer's clients.

Bank Julius Baer on Wednesday abandoned its lawsuit against Wikileaks, a community-driven document-sharing site that the Swiss bank accused of distributing confidential financial information.

Contributors to Wikileaks characterized the documents as proof of tax evasion on the part of the bank's clients.

In early February, attorneys for the bank won an injunction against Wikileaks that forced Dynadot, the domain registrar of Wikileaks.org, to disassociate the site's domain name records with its servers, thereby preventing use of the domain name to reach the site.

The effort was largely unsuccessful, however, as Wikileaks mirror sites exist in different country code domains and the .org site could still be reached via its numeric IP address.

More significantly, the bank's actions roused media and cyberliberties groups to defend Wikileaks' rights under the First Amendment and brought renewed scrutiny to the documents the bank hoped to shield.

The broad dissatisfaction with the judge's decision to try to block all of Wikileaks to limit access to a few documents played an important role in helping the judge re-evaluate the breadth of his decision, said Paul Alan Levy, an attorney with the Public Citizen Litigation Group.

"First, the enormous public outcry against the excessiveness of the relief granted by the judge -- the grant of a 'permanent injunction' that attempted to take down the entire Web site -- plainly affected the judge, who was concerned at the outset of the preliminary injunction hearing last Friday to explain away his grant of such sweeping relief, and whose opinion dissolving that injunction and rejecting the request to turn the [temporary restraining order] into a preliminary injunction further explained the basis for what he had done," said Levy in a statement. "Judges DO read the newspapers. At the same time, we give the judge full credit for undertaking a meticulous review of the various considerations at stake -- a four-hour oral argument is extremely unusual in an age when federal judges are overwhelmed with cases -- and then reaching the right result."

While Wikileaks.org once again resolves properly and takes people to the Wikileaks site, its legal troubles may not be over. Levy said that the bank's notice of dismissal warns of the possibility that the same lawsuit might be filed in a different court.

Levy also said that the bank appears to have been motivated by fear of a legal counterstrike. A continuation of the suit in California could have put the bank at risk of a countersuit under California's anti-SLAPP statute, which protects people who have been sued for exercising their right to speak out about public issues.

Wikileaks notes on its site that BJB's stock has dropped 20% since January.

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