Appellate Court Allows Palin’s Defamation Lawsuit Against The New York Times to Move Foward

Testimonies are generally reserved for trials, so when the editor of The New York Times, James Bennet, testified before a judge who was deciding whether to dismiss a case, the hearing itself was already highly unusual.

Normally, a motion to dismiss asks the judge to consider the merits of the case and whether it’s worth the court’s time to pursue the matter. If anyone is brought in to testify, it’s not until after the judge has determined that the claims have merit and the case should move forward.

But Judge Jed S. Rakoff of the Federal District of Manhattan, went off-script when he summoned Bennet to testify before making his decision regarding whether to dismiss Sarah Palin’s case against The New York Times.

Palin sued the major newspaper after it published an editorial, written by Bennet, linking Palin to a mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona on January 8, 2011, in which 6 people were killed and 13 wounded, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

Before that shooting, Palin’s political action committee (PAC) had published a map of the electoral districts of the U.S. with crosshairs overlaying certain Democratic districts. Bennet’s editorial linked that map to the mass shooting. In his testimony, he said his intention was not to blame Palin for the shooting, but merely to point out how heated the political climate in our country has become. Regardless of whether Bennet’s intention was to blame Palin for the shooting, that’s certainly how she interpreted his editorial, and it’s unlikely that she’s the only one who saw it that way, which is why she sued the publication for defamation.

The editorial in The New York Times initially wrote that Palin’s PAC had published pictures of various Democratic representatives, including Giffords, overlaid by crosshairs, but it later printed a correction, stating that the PAC had published a map with crosshairs over certain Democratic districts.

After Judge Rakoff dismissed Palin’s defamation lawsuit against The New York Times, Palin appealed the decision, and the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed Rakoff’s decision, saying his job had been to determine if Palin’s claims against the newspaper were sufficient to warrant allowing the case to move forward in the courts. Instead, the appellate court’s 21-page decision said that Rakoff stepped out of line by attempting to rule on the case himself.

Palin’s attorneys have said they are pleased by the appellate court’s decision, while attorneys for The New York Times have said they are disappointed by the new ruling. That said, nothing is set in stone. All this means is that the defamation lawsuit can continue in the courts, but which party will emerge victorious remains to be seen.

In order to successfully sue a public figure like Palin for defamation, the plaintiff has to prove, not only that the published information was false, but that the writer and/or publisher knew the information was false at the time they wrote/published it, and that they did so with the intention of harming the plaintiff. Given that the article in question was an editorial (rather than a news article) that’s going to be very difficult for Palin’s attorneys to prove.

Lubin Austermuehle’s defamation and slander lawyers near Aurora and Naperville have more than three decades of experience helping business clients unravel the complexities of Illinois and out-of-state defamation, libel and slander laws. We assist businesses and owners who are the victims of defamatory and slanderous attacks on their businesses and reputations.

You can read the Court’s entire opinion here.

Our Lake County defamation attorneys defend individuals’ First Amendment and free speech rights to post on Facebook, Yelp and other websites information that criticizes businesses and addresses matters of public concern. You can view a federal court decision where we prevailed in a libel per se claim asserting the innocent infringer defense here. Here you can find an arbitration decision where we successfully defended our client’s right to post negative opinions on YouTube about a used car dealer. We recently required a defendant who publicized an allegedly false lawsuit concerning our client to provide an apology and full retraction as part of a confidential financial settlement following our filing of a $16,000,000.00 defamation per se suit in federal district court.

We also handle emergency commercial litigation involving preliminary injunctions and temporary restraining orders (TROs), defamation, libel, and covenants not to compete, franchise, distributor and dealer wrongful termination, and trade secrets along with various other types of business disputes involving shareholders, partnerships, closely-held businesses and employee or executive breaches of fiduciary duties. Our Highland Park and Lake Forest business, commercial, class-action, and consumer litigation lawyers represent individuals, family businesses, and enterprises of all sizes in a variety of legal disputes, including disputes among partners and shareholders as well as lawsuits between businesses and consumer rights, auto fraud, and wage claim individual and class action cases. In every case, our goal is to resolve disputes as quickly and successfully as possible, helping business clients protect their investments and get back to business as usual. From offices in Elmhurst and Wilmette, near Park Ridge and Highland Park, we serve clients throughout Illinois and the Midwest. You can contact us online here or call us on our locally at 630-333-0333.

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