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Don King's right to sue in UK over US web comments upheld

The Court of Appeal this week upheld a High Court decision which gave permission to boxing promoter Don King to sue heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and others over comments reported on US boxing web sites.22 Oct 2004

As the Honourable Mr Justice Eady wrote on Tuesday, the story "is nothing if not colourful".

King, who lives in Florida, sued Lennox Lewis, who now lives in New York, Nevada-based Lion Promotions, and Judd Burstein, also of New York and the lawyer for Lewis and Lion. King has, between the appeal court hearing and the judgment, settled his claims with Lewis and Lion, leaving Burstein as sole defendant.

The dispute traces back to another case, where Burstein represented Lewis and Lion in a lawsuit against Mike Tyson, Don King and others. It concerned allegations that King meddled in a contract to be entered into among Lion, Lewis and Tyson for a second Lewis v. Tyson contest.

In that complaint, filed in May 2003, it was alleged that King threatened a friend of Tyson, saying he would "shove a shotgun up [his] ass" if he sought to interfere with King's efforts to deter Tyson from the rematch. "Given King's history of violence," observed the $385 million lawsuit, "including a four year prison sentence for beating a man to death, this was not an idle threat".

Then, in July 2003, fightnews.com ran a story by Burstein which referred to an interview given by King to a newspaper. Burstein accused King of bigotry and of making anti-semitic remarks – in particular, calling him "a shyster lawyer". "Don apparently believes that insulting Jews is appropriate conduct," wrote Burstein. Later, boxingtalk.com reported an interview with Judd Burstein, repeating the allegations of bigotry and anti-semitism.

King's UK case, according to Justice Eady, "is that the meaning of the words complained of in both texts is that he is a persistent, bigoted, and unashamed or unrepentant anti-semite."

Burstein, Lewis and Lion argued in the High Court that King had no jurisdiction to sue in England. They lost and appealed.

Under English law, libel is committed where the publication takes place and each publication generates a separate cause of action. Both sides accepted that fact, and that internet publications are published at the place where they are downloaded. But the defence team argued that the High Court judge was wrong to see an English court as the proper forum.

"Shyster," said the defence, does not have racist or Jewish connotations in the UK, although it noted that it may have a different meaning in New York. It accused King of forum shopping – because no equivalent action would "survive" under New York law, which restricts such rights of action by public figures.

However, after a study of relevant case law, Justice Eady concluded that no mistake in law had been made by the High Court. It was ironic, he and the High Court noted, that Burstein was arguing that King should be suing in New York – whilst also arguing that any such claim in New York would "be doomed to failure."

Justice Eady upheld the earlier ruling, meaning that King's claims are likely to come before a jury.

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