Peter Haley and his colleagues at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, like everyone else in the city of Boston, were deeply affected by the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. When the Boston Bar Association established the Marathon Assistance Project, they were eager to help in any way they could.
That was how Haley met Abdul Alharbi, and began to build a defamation case that would garner significant attention in the media and in the legal profession. In Haley’s words:
“Abdul was a spectator at the marathon, was injured and was brought to the hospital after the attacks for treatment. While there, he was questioned by law enforcement and agreed to allow the FBI to conduct a search of his apartment. The search was highly public. But within a day or so, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security concluded he had no involvement and most commentary ceased, with one notable exception.
As set forth in the complaint, Glenn Beck, through his radio and television broadcasts continued to insist that Abdul was involved and ultimately asserted that he was the “money man” who funded the attacks.”
The BBA Marathon Assistance project referred Alharbi to Haley a few months after the attack. Between then and their ultimate decision to file a complaint in March of 2014, Haley’s team at Nelson Mullins prepared Alharbi for the many legal and personal challenges the case could bring. Defamation claims are hard to prosecute, damages are difficult to prove, and bringing the claims in the first place could add to Alharbi’s personal embarrassment and prolong his time in the spotlight due to Beck’s allegations.
For Haley’s part, he was wary of influencing the public discussion surrounding the case.
“I think cases against well-known defendants can sometimes be perilous in that, if you want it, they can provide a forum for counsel to insert himself or herself into the public debate about the case. For the most part, I find that to be a mistake,” he said. “People call you because your client has entrusted you with handling the matter on their behalf. It’s about the client; it’s not about you.”
He added, “A civil action, in most instances, is a means to a monetary end, it is not a forum for personal or moral judgment.”
The terms of the settlement are confidential. According to a statement released by both sides when they reached the settlement last month, neither side had to admit wrongdoing, and Beck and several companies associated with him “agreed to settlement of the pending action in furtherance of fundamental principles of journalistic integrity by preserving the confidentiality of their sources consistent with their rights and privileges under the First Amendment.”
Haley said he found it to be a great privilege to appear before Judge Saris and her staff, and commended the attorneys he argued against for a job well done.
Haley also praised his colleagues and the management of Nelson Mullins for allowing him to spend a significant amount of his time and energy on Alharbi’s case.
“It was an unusually large commitment and prevented me from carrying my share of the work and revenue burden that fairly belongs to me. No one ever mentioned it, other than to offer encouragement. This matter brought home to me how much I like and respect each and every one of those partners and how grateful I should be for their support,” he said.
Most of all, he said, he valued the chance to meet and assist Alharbi. For Haley, working on the case underscored the gap between affordable legal help and those who need it.
“One thing the case brought home to me is how ruinously expensive litigation is for most people, and how horribly underserved most Americans are by the judicial system as it exists,” he said. “This was a case that needed to be brought. I now know how much that cost, and I know that a free lawyer was the only way it would have been brought. That is something we should correct.”