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The U.S. Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, freeing up millions of dollars from frozen Iranian assets to pay American citizens — including a Norristown, Penn. man — who were held captive in Iran in the 1980s. The decision closes a chapter for the hostages and for several Montgomery County, Penn., attorneys who have been fighting to recover a multi-million dollar award granted in 1998 by Washington, D.C., District Court Judge Thomas Pennfield Jackson. James J. Oliver, Carla E. Connor and Barbara A. Barnes of the Norristown firm of Murphy Oliver Caiola & Gowen represent Norristown native Joseph Cicippio and other former hostages. “Today the hostages are all in tears and are going to be compensated 100 percent in compensatory damages,” Oliver said in a phone interview from Washington. “It’s been a long haul for us,” he said. The House of Representatives approved the bill on Tuesday by a vote of 431-1, Oliver said. The bill is expected to be on President Bill Clinton’s desk by next week, and he is expected to sign it, Oliver said. The bill will allow Oliver and his clients to recover $65 million dollars and about $7.5 million in post-judgment interest. No punitives can be recovered under the bill. The passage of the bill frees the Iranian assets to compensate all of the hostages seeking money from the more than $400 million in frozen assets, Oliver said. Cicippio, who was working as the comptroller for American University of Beirut, was kidnapped by terrorists shortly after leaving his Lebanon apartment early in the morning of Sept. 12, 1986. He was held hostage for the next five years. He was interrogated, threatened with death and castration and forced to live in a scorpion- and rodent-infested cell. Frank Reed was a U.S. national when he was kidnapped in September 1986. He was fed arsenic and held in Lebanon for 1,330 days, spending two years in solitary confinement. The wives of two of the former hostages, Elham Cicippio and Fifi DeLati-Reed, were also listed as plaintiffs in the case. David Jacobsen, another named plaintiff, was working for a medical center near the American University of Beirut as the chief executive officer when he was kidnapped by terrorists while crossing an intersection in May 1985. He was held with Anderson and was finally released in November 1986. In his decision, Jackson identified the captors as members of the Hizballah, a political terrorist group financed and controlled by Iran. Iran was served in April 1997 as part of Cicippio et al. v. The Islamic Republic of Iran, but did not respond to the complaint causing the case to be tried ex parte. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act’s original language shielded foreign countries from civil action in U.S. courts with only a few exceptions. The act does allow U.S. courts to sue over issues arising from commercial dealings. The suit was originally rejected in federal court, and the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in 1995. Oliver then drafted a proposed amendment to the act and took it to U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and although the State Department argued against it, the amendment was passed in 1996. Then Oliver refiled the suit. The amended act allowed American courts to seek action against governments designated by the U.S. Department of State as a “sponsor of terrorism.” According to Judge Jackson’s decision, Iran has been identified as a sponsor of terrorism since 1984 and also as a sponsor of the Hizballah. The act states that where a foreign state is not entitled to immunity, “the foreign state shall be liable in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual.” The act however, forbids the governments to be liable for punitive damages. Jackson had broken down the amount of the judgment, awarding Cicippio $20 million, Reed $16 million, and Jacobsen $9 million. The wives of Cicippio and Reed each received $10 million dollars.

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