I have been lucky. At each and every firm that I have been with there has always been one incredibly weird case, involving very difficult parties, international intrigue, high tension and constant emergencies. I have always been staffed on that case. Some people may consider it bad luck; I consider it good luck. It is good luck because this is how you learn and grow as a litigator. Let other people handle the easy cases; those people are not likely to progress as lawyers.
Notwithstanding the bevy of interesting cases which I have been blessed to handle, there has occasionally been that one case that I hear about and think – man, I wish I had that case. One of those cases I learned of recently and it is called Wultz v. Bank of China.
Daniel Wultz was a sixteen year old boy who, coincidentally, lived in my hometown. He travelled to Israel with his father on a vacation. Normally, the odds of being killed by a terrorist in Israel are incredibly low. The odds of being killed by a car on the highway are much higher. Nonetheless, a Palestinian terrorist exploded a bomb in a Tel Aviv café where Daniel was sitting with his father. Daniel was killed. His father survived.
It is easy to understand the outrage that Daniel’s parents must have felt following that incident. I have been to Israel several times. I have been to Israel with my children. We have sat in cafes in Tel Aviv. I consider myself lucky. I understand perfectly the impulse that Daniel’s parents must have felt to seek revenge – any eye for an eye. The problem was, of course, how can a terrorist act be legitimately avenged ? Perhaps the Israeli army can hunt down the responsible parties and obtain retribution. Perhaps those responsible could have been arrested and prosecuted, like Eichmann, following the Holocaust. A lawsuit could never compensate a family for that kind of loss. And, anyway, who could you sue ? Was there anyone you could sue ? Apparently, there was.
Enter Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It was Prime Minister Netanyahu who advised the Wultz family, sometime after the incident, that Israeli intelligence had traced the source of funds that were used to fund this terrorist act. And the money was flowing through the Bank of China. Netanyahu encouraged the Wultz family to sue the Bank of China. Some very bright lawyer has now taken up the cause and has sued the Bank of China for aiding and abetting a terrorist act which led to the death of Daniel Wultz.
On its face, this is a very difficult case to prove. Counsel would have to essentially trace the source of funds flowing through accounts at the Bank of China and follow those funds directly to the terrorists who committed this particular crime. No easy task.
Moreover, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that an Israeli intelligence officer was slated to testify against the Bank of China and would assist in providing the missing link between the terrorist actions and the Bank of China. Then politics entered the fray and the Bank of China brought pressure on the Israeli government not to allow this. Can a Judge compel this testimony over the objection of a foreign government ? That likely depends upon whether the witness is subject to the jurisdiction of the Court, a tenuous proposition for a witness who is likely outside of the United States. Moreover, will the U.S. government intervene to prevent the testimony citing national security ? Fascinating. I don’t know the answers to these questions but just thinking about them is enough to hypnotize the average lawyer.
The filing of this case reflects the absolute brilliance of the lawyers and people who conceived it. After all, you generally cannot sue a terrorist. However, it is hard to argue with the concept that banks should not be assisting terrorist actions by allowing funds to be used in terrorist acts to flow through their accounts. If you can close down the source of the funds, perhaps you can curtail these act from occurring in the future.
Certainly the average banker would say – how were we supposed to know ? The answer – banks are supposed to know their customers. Yes, even if those banks are in China.
I wish I had this case. I wish I had this case because, as sad as its genesis is, it is a case that is the dream of any idealistic lawyer. First, as an attorney you get to potentially right a major wrong which is one of the reasons that many of us went into this business to begin with. Second, you get to send a message to other would be violators: “don’t let terrorists launder money through your accounts.” Third, you, as a civil litigator, are actually fighting terrorism, even if you are not carrying a gun to the front lines.
I hope that one day my phone rings and someone asks me to take a case like this. I would jump on it. For free.