Frustrated by the way people can manipulate legal systems and demonize innocent victims, young lawyer Elizabeth Samson hopes to make free speech more of a reality in the world and crush a practice that she calls "libel tourism." Samson equates libel tourism to international forum shopping, where plaintiffs look for a court in the country that will likely provide the most favorable outcomes for their cases. Often, such cases involve terror financing. Plaintiffs also manipulate the system using universal jurisdiction, Samson explains, a phenomenon in which Jews have all too often been victimized. For example, a Spanish court was able to bring a lawsuit against two Israeli generals because the attorneys invoked universal jurisdiction; though the generals had no relation to Spain, the country claimed to have a moral obligation to humanity to raise charges against them.
"I think there are attempts to demonize Israel or the Jewish people by using courts," said Samson, who earned her J.D. from Fordham University School of Law in 2003 and then an LL.M. in International and European Law from the University of Amsterdam the following year. "I wanted to go to law school to help the Jewish community, to help Israel."
After a year working as deputy chief of staff at the Office of Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, Samson moved on to accept a Legacy Heritage Fellowship, where she worked for The David Project. There, she researched and wrote about the misuse of world judicial systems and focused intently on specific cases of libel tourism. "I just saw this particular area as something very new and untapped," she said.
This past December, Samson became a visiting fellow at The Hudson Institute, where she is working on the Free Speech Project and is writing about what she calls "lawfare" as a substitute for military tactics. She recently delivered a paper about lawfare — which includes universal jurisdiction, libel tourism and misuse of courts — at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies of Bar Ilan University. She is also writing a book that compares and analyzes free speech in Western and non-Western countries.
As she continues her research, Samson finds Israel’s situation as a country surrounded by non-Western, Islamic countries particularly intriguing. "It’s very interesting to compare their democratic values in this hotbed of non-democratic values and theocratic rule," she said.