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Setback For Fort Mill Man's Lawsuit Against Iran

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Gwendolyn Glenn/WFAE
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Earlier this year, we brought you a story about John Kees, a Fort Mill man who is one of more than 80 plaintiffs trying to be included in a $2.6 billion judgment against Iran for its role in the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut. Kees was 11 when his father, Marion Kees, a Navy medic, was one of 241 U.S. military personnel killed in that explosion. Since the original story aired, Kees’ case has had a big setback.

Kees joined the lawsuit that included 80 victims or relatives of victims of the Beirut bombing in March. They wanted to be included in another lawsuit filed 15 years earlier by bombing victims and their families. In that case, several hundred plaintiffs were awarded a $2.6 billion judgment against Iran.

But they didn’t want Kees and his group to join them. They feared the new plaintiffs could delay payouts to everyone, and believe they shouldn’t benefit from the legal legwork of others.

This spring, a judge agreed that the Kees’ group waited too long to file. Kees says he only found out about the original lawsuit this year. He says the ruling is “definitely disappointing, kind of like too bad we didn’t get there in time and I think it comes down to greed,” Kees said. “But I didn’t wait around to wait for something to drop in my lap. I went on with my life, but it’s unfortunate.”

The judge also noted that no court has ruled that Iran is responsible for the suffering of Kees and his co-plaintiffs.

Their attorney, Douglas McNamara, is trying to obtain that ruling of responsibility, but just getting started is difficult. McNamara notified Iran of his lawsuit through the State Department. This month, a judge tossed out that suit, saying he should have used normal courier services. McNamara admits that the chances of collecting anything will be challenging.

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Credit Gwendolyn Glenn/WFAE
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John Kees keeps the last letter his father wrote to him from Beirut in a box, along with newspaper articles about the 1983 Beirut bombing.

“It is entirely possible we don’t get to get our clients any relief from the assets from the courts now, but all we can do is the next necessary step, which is to get the judgments against Iran and get them in a position to try and get the assets,” McNamara said.

But a legal delay in the original lawsuit is in their favor. The Iranian central bank argues that Congress illegally passed legislation in 2012 that allowed its assets in a New York bank to be seized to pay the bombing victims and their families. The U.S. Supreme has taken up the case.

“That’s going to take some time and we hope we can get caught up with our judgments and be in the same position as other soldiers who already have judgments to get some of these assets,” McNamara said.

For his part, Kees, a hospital infection consultant, says he’s not letting the lawsuit dominate his life.

“First and foremost, it won’t bring back my dad. I was robbed of that years ago,” Kees said.

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Credit Gwendolyn Glenn/WFAE
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John Kees (left) and his 10-year-old son Jake enjoy a snack after school at their Fort Mill home.

Kees cares more about what the settlement could mean for his 10-year-old son Jake.