New York Times
                     May 13, 2000 

          Neighbors' Spat Leads to a Huge Award   
           Against the Anti-Defamation League

                 By MICHAEL JANOFSKY

DENVER, May 12 -- As a dispute with their neighbors
intensified in 1994, Mitchell and Candace Aronson of
Evergreen, Colo., tuned in a police scanner to intercept
private phone conversations and heard the neighbors make
what the Aronsons perceived were anti-Semitic remarks
about them. The Aronsons immediately sought help from the
Anti-Defamation League, whose local director publicly
called the neighbors anti-Semites.

     Over the next five and a half years, the conflict
widened into a vicious legal battle over issues of
privacy and defamation, ending in a Denver federal court,
where a jury recently returned the first verdict ever
against the league, a unit of the B'nai Brith that has
fought anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry for 87 years.

     The jury also awarded the neighbors, William and
Dorothy Quigley, $10.5 million in damages -- a quarter of
the league's annual budget.

     The Aronsons, who are now divorced, were not
defendants in the case.

     Lawyers for the league filed motions today asking
the trial judge to set aside the verdict or, failing
that, reduce the award. But the case has focused a rare
spotlight on how aggressively an organization that prides
itself on exposing anti-Semitism responds to perceived
threats that, for many Jews, carry the emotional weight
of historical persecution. In testimony, the Quigleys,
who are Roman Catholic, insisted that their language did
not mean to convey anti-Semitic feelings.

     Still, by ruling that Saul F. Rosenthal, the
director of the league's Mountain States regional
chapter, defamed the Quigleys with public remarks that
relied upon phone conversations taped in violation of
federal wiretap laws, the jury put limits on how far an
organization can go toward fulfilling its mission. It
also sent a message that protecting the privacy of
personal telephone conversations is more important than
punishing offensive language they might include. While
some legal experts agreed with the jury's findings,
others said that if the judgment survives appeal, the
organization might have to temper its responses in the
future. Barry Curtiss-Lusher, chairman of the Mountain
States chapter, said that the possibility that the
verdict could have a chilling effect on the organization
was "one of our fears."

     "It's frightening," Mr. Curtiss-Lusher said. "It's
why we will appeal."

     Abraham Foxman, the league's national director and
a Holocaust survivor, disagreed, insisting that Mr.
Rosenthal did nothing wrong on behalf of the Aronsons and
that the league would respond in the same way again.

     "We are always concerned about attitude because we
don't know what the flash point is," Mr. Foxman said,
referring to remarks made by the Quigleys that the
Aronsons taped and found offensive. "With latent
anti-Semitism, at what point is attitude converted into
action or violence? This is what concerns us, and I would
hope this verdict does not have a chilling effect on what
we do.

     "We will continue to stand up against racism and
anti-Semitism. Even though we are sometimes misconstrued,
that has always been our strength."

     Only once before has the league been a defendant in
a defamation case that went to trial, winning in 1984.
Many other cases against the league were dismissed.

     Alan M. Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor, who
is not affiliated with the league, said: "In the final
analysis, this could chill the work of a very important
organization that lives by its freedom of expression.
Sometimes they make a mistake, but the essence of
American free speech is that you have the right to be

     With appeals ahead, neither the Aronsons, the
Quigleys, Mr. Rosenthal nor their lawyers would comment
on the case.

     The story of the Aronsons and Quigleys, as told
through court documents and trial testimony, began the
summer of 1994, when the two families lived two houses
apart in Evergreen, an upscale suburb west of Denver in
the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Former New Yorkers
all, they occasionally socialized; their children played

     But starting with arguments over the behavior of
their dogs, the friendship deteriorated, leading to an
incident in which Mr. Quigley drove his car toward Mrs.
Aronson, sitting in her car, before he turned away. In
court papers, Mr. Quigley contended that Mrs. Aronson was
taunting him by blocking his passage; Mrs. Aronson
claimed Mr. Quigley was speeding to intimidate her.

     In either case, after Mrs. Aronson told her husband
what happened, he turned on a police scanner that he
often used and picked up Mrs. Quigley speaking on a
cordless telephone with a friend. Hearing Mrs. Quigley
talking about him and his wife and discussing ways to
drive them out of the neighborhood, Mr. Aronson began
taping a conversation that lasted nearly two hours and
included references to Holocaust imagery, like "painting
a facsimile of an oven door" on the Aronson house, and
suggestions that they would harm the Aronson children.

     But Mrs. Quigley and her friend laughed about their
conversation, as if to suggest that Mrs. Quigley was
letting off steam. At one point, Mrs. Quigley conceded to
her friend that their remarks were "sick."

     The Aronsons were not so amused. In the days that
followed, they complained to David J. Thomas, the
Jefferson County district attorney, contending that the
Quigleys had violated Colorado's ethnic intimidation law,
which prohibits intimidation, harassment or actions
against a person based on race, religion, ancestry or
national origin.

     They also contacted the Anti-Defamation League,
saying they had become victims of anti-Semitism. At the
suggestion of lawyers for the league who later
represented them, the Aronsons continued taping the
Quigleys' phone conversations, amassing almost 100 hours
worth in the next seven weeks.

     Some tapes, testimony showed, included other
derogatory comments about Jews and references to the
Holocaust -- all by Mrs. Quigley -- which the Quigleys'
lawyer, Jay S. Horowitz, characterized in court papers as
"facetious or sarcastic."

     Mr. Aronson dismissed that interpretation,
testifying that he and his wife "lived in great fear" of
the Quigleys because of what they had heard.

     The tapes led to no physical actions by the Quigleys
and they revealed no anti-Semitic remarks by Mr. Quigley,
but they became the source of almost everything that
followed and, ultimately, the reason the league lost in
     Unknown to anyone at the time that the Aronsons were
taping -- including Mr. Thomas, -- Congress amended the
federal wiretap law, making it illegal to record
conversations on a cordless telephone, to transcribe the
material and to use the transcriptions for any purpose.
The law already covered conventional telephones and
cellular phones.

     Without knowing about the change, the Aronsons used
the tapes as the basis for a federal civil lawsuit
against the Quigleys in December 1994. A day later, Mr.
Rosenthal appeared at a news conference with the Aronsons
in which he described their encounter with the Quigleys
as "a vicious anti-Semitic campaign," based solely on
conversations he and associates had with the Aronsons.
Later that day, Mr. Rosenthal expanded on his remarks in
an interview on a Denver radio talk show.

     Two days later, Mr. Thomas used the tapes as the
basis for filing criminal charges against the Quigleys.

     But after Mr. Thomas learned of the change in the
wiretap law and heard on the tapes the context of Mrs.
Quigley's remarks, he dropped all charges but one, a
misdemeanor traffic violation against Mr. Quigley for the
incident in the street. In an open letter released to
reporters, Mr. Thomas apologized to the Quigleys, saying
he found no evidence that either had engaged in
"anti-Semitic conduct or harassment."

     A swirl of lawsuits, countersuits and settlements
over the next four years left only the Quigleys' civil
complaint against the Anti-Defamation League and Mr.
Rosenthal. In a four-week trial that ended last month,
the jury determined that Mr. Rosenthal had made more than
40 statements defaming the Quigleys; their lawyers asked
the judge today to use his discretion to triple the
jury's damage award.