Newspaper Sued For Defaming Judge Over Defamation Ruling

from the touchy dept

Rob Hyndman points us to the rather amazing story in which a local Virginia weekly newspaper, the Richmond Voice, has been sued for defamation. Of course, newspapers get sued for defamation all the time. What's interesting here is that the newspaper had already lost a defamation case (concerning a letter to the editor it published concerning a local school teacher who didn't like it). After the paper lost that original lawsuit (and had to pay $125,000), it ran an editorial complaining about the decision... and the new defamation lawsuit is from the judge in the trial and the lawyer who represented the teacher -- and they're asking for $1 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages.

According to the legal filing by the judge, Melvin R. Hughes Jr., (embedded below), the defamatory statements really seem pretty tame. Basically, after losing the original case, the editorial said that there was "a bevy of evidence," supporting its side of the case, but "[unfortunately], the judge and the jury in the case did not feel the same way." It goes on to defend its original reporting... and then there's the key sentence:
We were naive in thinking that this fact alone would lead to a victory in civil case we had deemed frivolous. We did not take into account the politics played in a courtroom -- between judges and counsel -- and the maneuverings of counsel who treat facts casually.
If that's defamatory, it seems pretty weakly so. In context, it seems pretty clear that this is a newspaper that lost a lawsuit and is upset about how it was handled by the court. That's not too surprising, and taken in context, it seems like most people would reasonably discount the general anger at the outcome. Perhaps the statement could be read to suggest corruption, but that seems like a stretch. Instead, this really feels like a SLAPP suit... so it seems rather unfortunate that Virginia currently has no anti-SLAPP laws. Either way, it seems problematic that a judge would sue someone complaining about a ruling for defamation, as it could have clear chilling effects on anyone else speaking out about treatement they felt was unfair in court.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Pixelation, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 6:05am

    Perhaps they hit a little too close to the truth about the politics in the courtroom...

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 9:32am

      Re:

      Yeah, the judge's response itself suggests a lack of character on his part. It was wrong for the judge to respond the way he did, as a public figure it's his job to be able to withstand these sorts of criticisms, often even if those criticisms are false (if don't like it then don't become a judge), and the judges immoral response suggests a lack of character on his part. This sort of alleged courtroom politics is likely not beyond the judges character.

       

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    Christopher, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 6:05am

    A true test of character...

    ... is how you treat people with no power to counter your own.

    -C

     

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    Berenerd (profile), Apr 21st, 2011 @ 6:08am

    I am stating a website...

    RateMyJudge.com...I WILL MAKE MILLIONS!!!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 6:18am

    Ahh the wonderful cycle of human devolution is quite a spectacle indeed. Keep grinding away at your petty little jobs to pay taxes to support worthless little causes such as these. I'm curious how well I would be able to get the anti-bullying grandstanders to file defamation cases against adolescent children simple acting out basic social behavior. I could probably make millions suing the hell out of anyone with an opinion.

     

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    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Apr 21st, 2011 @ 7:12am

    Incoming...

    Incoming Streisand Effect in 3... 2... 1...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 9:26am

    Isn't the defamation standard for government authorities, like judges, higher than for regular citizens?

     

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    harbingerofdoom (profile), Apr 21st, 2011 @ 9:52am

    the whole thing sounds exactly like the situation that would result in having a highly unethical, and quite likely, bribe-able judge sitting on the bench.

     

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    J, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 1:02pm

    sue train

    man i gotta get on this sue train.

     

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    Fentex, Apr 21st, 2011 @ 3:44pm

    I think you're mistaken. As represented that seems clearly defamatory (not a million dollars worth though).

    It seems a clear statement that the judge corruptly abused their position and responsibilities to render political rather than judicial rulings.

    If not true that seems a clearly defamatory thing to say of a judge to me.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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