Judge restrains journalist from writing about Haitian prime minister, businessman

Rob Tricchinelli | Prior Restraints | News | February 19, 2013

A federal judge in Miami ordered a Haitian-American journalist to never again publish anything about the prime minister of Haiti or a Florida businessman, as part of a defamation judgment.

Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and businessman Patrice Baker sued Leo Joseph and the Haiti-Observateur, a New York City-based, bi-language Haitian newspaper managed by Joseph.

“Leo Joseph is hereby permanently restrained from publishing future communications to any third-parties concerning or regarding” Lamothe and Baker “in either their professional, personal or political lives,” said the order from federal district judge Ursula Ungaro.

Lamothe and Baker sued Joseph and the Haiti-Observateur in federal court in Miami in September, but Joseph ever appeared in court to fight the claim.

Consequently, Lamothe and Baker asked the court to enter a default judgment in their favor, even proposing an order for the court to use, preventing Joseph from publishing any further information about them. Default judgments can be entered when a party to a lawsuit fails to appear in court.

The court copied Lamothe and Baker’s proposed order, without revisions, and formally issued it Feb. 6.

“The damage to plaintiffs’ personal, profession and political reputations represents an immediate and irreparable injury for which there is no adequate remedy at law,” Ungaro’s order said. “The balance of the potential harm to . . . Joseph in restraining his publication of defamatory and malicious communications concerning the plaintiffs is far outweighed by the harm to the plaintiffs caused by the publications.”

The suit was in response to a pair of articles posted by the Haiti-Observateur in August and September, which suggested a link between Lamothe and Baker, and the sale of Haitel, a Haitian telecommunications company.

Lamothe and Baker’s complaint characterized the articles as “false and defamatory” because they said Haitel was controlled by Lamothe, who, along with Baker, arranged for the sale of Haitel and fixed its sale price. The articles suggested Lamothe and Baker improperly benefited financially from the sale, and that Lamothe exerted political pressure on an investment firm to issue payments for the sale.

Ungaro’s order also held that Joseph had defamed Lamothe and Baker.