Below is my column in USA Today on the Palin defamation trial. The case, if appealed, could raise a serious challenge to the application of the “actual malice” standard to public figures. Ironically, last night, Hillary Clinton made reference to this standard in suggesting that she might be able to sue Fox News for its coverage of the Durham investigation. It is considered a sacrilege to even raise the possibility of reexamining the legacy of New York Times v. Sullivan but there are legitimate long-standing questions about the extension of the actual malice standard from public officials to public figures. It is a tough question with good arguments on both sides, but it is a debate that is long overdue.
There is a major development in the Sarah Palin defamation case where a jury recently rejected her claims against the New York Times. The case had a curious profile because the judge sent out the jury to deliberate and then announced that, while he would let them reach a verdict, it would not matter: he would dismiss the case anyway. I wrote in the Hill that this move worked to insulate the judge’s own decision. If the jury came in with a verdict against Palin, that fact finding would be more difficult to overturn. Now, however, Judge Jed Rakoff has disclosed that the jury found out about his intended dismissal before they reached a verdict. That is a major problem and could substantially change the impact of the case on appeal. In this case, Judge Rakoff effectively supplied both the instructions and the answers for the jury.
As expected, the family of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins has sued actor Alec Baldwin and others for wrongful death in the fatal shooting on the set of the movie “Rust.” The complaint details evidence of negligence on the part of the production team, which includes Baldwin as a producer. The lawsuit is on behalf of Halyna’s husband, Matthew Hutchins, and their son Andros Hutchins. There is also a pending criminal investigation. As previously discussed, there is ample support for such a negligence claim and there will likely be enormous pressure to settle this case.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the former Director for European Affairs for the National Security Council, has filed a federal lawsuit alleging violations of his civil rights by Donald Trump, Jr.; attorney and Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani; former Deputy White House Communications Director Julia Hahn; and former White House Director of Social Media and Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Daniel Scavino, Jr. He alleges a “conspiracy” to intimidate him and to retaliate against him as a witness against Donald Trump during his first impeachment proceedings. It claims that this conspiracy has left “a stain on our democracy.” The lawsuit is novel and would create new law, if successful. However, after reading the filing, I remain skeptical of the legal basis for the action. Continue reading ““A Stain on Our Democracy”: Vindman Sues Donald Trump Jr., Rudy Giuliani and Others for Witness Intimidation”→
We previously discussed the treatment of Professor Jason Kilborn, who was put on indefinite administrative leave after using a censured version of the n-word in an exam question at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC). He is now suing the school over his treatment, including the required participation in sensitivity training and denial of a standard pay increase for faculty. We discussed today another free speech controversy at University of Illinois (Urbana Champaign) over the student government seeking to bar former Attorney General Jeff Sessions from campus.
Below is my column in the Hill on the defamation lawsuit facing actor Alec Baldwin. Where Baldwin famously adopted the persona of Trump for Saturday Night Live, he will now likely adopt his actual legal defense to fend off the family of a Marine killed in Afghanistan. If you found it hard to tell the difference between the two personalities, it is going to get a lot worse in McCollum v. Baldwin.
On October 5, 2021, the site Above the Law ran a story by Senior editor Kathryn Rubino about what she described as a vehemently racist law student who was given a prestigious clerkship by William H. Pryor Jr., chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Above the Law has a long history of attacking conservatives, free speech advocates, and others deemed right of center. This story (which appeared earlier on sites like Mediaite) was perfect from that perspective and lit up the liberal media. That included a column by Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus asking “Why is a prominent federal judge hiring a law clerk who said she hates Black people?” The problem is that the Second Circuit found little evidence that it is true. The question is whether the accused student, Crystal Clanton, will now sue ATL, Mediaite, and other media outlets for defamation.
Prince Andrew lost a major ruling in his litigation with Virginia Giuffre (née Roberts), who claims that the Duke of York sexually assaulted her as part of the sex trafficking crimes of the late Jeffrey Epstein. In his 46-page decision, Judge Lewis A Kaplan of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York adopted an extremely narrow reading of the settlement and eschewed the defense arguments on threshold barriers to any lawsuit. Kaplan declared the “defendant’s motion to dismiss the complaint or for a more definite statement is denied in all respects.” Continue reading “Royally Eschewed: Court Rejects Prince Andrew’s Motion to Dismiss Giuffre Lawsuit”→
The civil litigation between Prince Andrew and Virginia Giuffre (née Roberts) just took a “Big Lebowski” turn.
In the movie, there is a scene “The Dude” is pressed on what happened to a million dollars in a suitcase. He insists “We dropped off the damn money…” When the Big Lebowski asks “We?,” the Dude responds “I! The Royal ‘we’!…”
The Christmas Eve order for the New York Times to return confidential legal material from the conservative publication, Project Veritas, has led many to decry the imposition of a “prior restraint” on the media. I joined in expressing those concerns about courts preventing a news publication and then ordering the return of material sent by a source. That issue will be now be addressed in the courts. One question, however, remains: when will the FBI raid the home of New York Times publisher, A.G. Sulzberger? Continue reading “Ashley Biden’s Diary: Will The FBI Raid The New York Times?”→
Former Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann has reached another settlement with a major news organization over the widespread false reporting of his encounter with a Native American activist in front of the Lincoln Memorial on January 18, 2019. Sandmann previously settled with the Washington Post and CNN. He has now settled his $275 million defamation lawsuit against NBC. Unfortunately, such damages have become the cost of doing business for many in the media in the age of advocacy journalism where the narrative is more important than the news. Having a MAGA-hatted, racist, pro-life high school student abusing an elderly Native American was a fact too good to check — even when it required as little as watching the unedited videotapes. Continue reading ““Our Pride is Showing”: NBC Settles With Nicholas Sandmann”→
Recently, I noted the curious scene of actor Alec Baldwin insisting with reporters that he has been given clear legal instructions not to discuss the shooting of Halyna Hutchins at the set of the movie “Rust” . . . and then making detailed statements about the shooting. Now, with an ongoing criminal investigation and various civil lawsuits expected to be filed, Baldwin has given a detailed statement to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, including a surprising claim that he never pointed the gun or pulled the trigger. That interview may be one of his most watched scenes, particularly if he is charged criminally or sued civilly.[Update: Santa Fe’s Democrat D.A. Mary Carmack-Altwies has stated that it is possible that Baldwin didn’t pull the trigger on the gun].