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Rothwell Figg Pro Bono Matter Involving Known Journalist Sets Precedent on Physical Attacks Through the Internet

September 11, 2020

A civil case arising from an attack on journalist Kurt Eichenwald, a known epileptic, via Twitter, ended on Friday, September 11, 2020, when the Court entered judgment against white supremacist John Rivello, the attacker, on all of Mr. Eichenwald’s claims, and awarded Mr. Eichenwald $100,000 in damages. Earlier in the case, Chief Judge Bredar denied Mr. Rivello's motion to dismiss in an important ruling recognizing the validity of the asserted claims. A team of Rothwell Figg attorneys, including Steven Lieberman, Jennifer Maisel, and Spencer Johnson, represented Mr. Eichenwald on a pro bono basis in this groundbreaking case that involves matters of great public significance.

Mr. Eichenwald, a former New York Times reporter and two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, was targeted by Mr. Rivello for his criticism of then-President-elect Trump. In December 2016, Mr. Eichenwald was sent a flashing strobe light with the phrase “You deserve a seizure for your posts” by an anonymous Twitter user who turned out to be Mr. Rivello. During the litigation, disturbing images from Mr. Rivello’s iCloud were discovered, including a photo of a burning cross, a photo of a collection of objects including a hunting knife, rope, rubber gloves, Clorox bleach, and a bottle of what appears to be tranquilizers, and a photo of a gun pointed at a drawing of an anti-Semitic Jewish stereotype. As a result of the attack, Mr. Eichenwald suffered a near-fatal seizure, and he lives with physical and emotional damage stemming from it.

Now, after three years of litigation, Mr. Eichenwald won on all of his civil claims, including assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and has been awarded a $100,000 judgment, which he plans to donate to charities that assist people with epilepsy. The verdict is not only significant for Mr. Eichenwald, a journalist simply doing his job, but it sends an important message that people who intend to cause physical harm using the internet will suffer serious adverse legal consequences. “The approach that we used in this case would apply equally to someone who sends a signal over the Internet that disables a person’s pacemaker, or that interferes with the braking system in a person’s car,” stated Mr. Lieberman. “It is an important and groundbreaking case. We have been told that the Judge’s decision on the case is already being taught in major law schools, including the Duke University Law School.”

Law360 covered the recent judgment in an article titled "Ex-Times Journalist Wins Case Over Seizure-Inducing Tweet" on September 14, 2020. 

The Daily Record covered the case in an article titled "Salisbury man will pay $100K damages for journalist's tweet-induced seizure," on September 16, 2020. 

You can read more about the case in previous coverage on our website: Rothwell Figg Team Pave the Way for Legal Roadmap in Fighting Cyberattacks Against Epileptics (December 17, 2019); Partner Steven Lieberman Quoted in Articles on Subpoena Challenge in Eichenwald Case (July 6, 2018); Judge Denies Motion to Dismiss Battery Claim in Twitter Attack on Journalist Eichenwald (May 31, 2018); and Rothwell Figg’s Steven Lieberman Quoted in New York Times, Other Publications, Regarding Arrest of Suspect in Kurt Eichenwald Case (March 17, 2017).