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A New York judge this week dismissed a libel lawsuit by a Brooklyn judge against the New York Daily News and one of its former columnists.
Judge Martin Shulman wrote in an opinion that there was no evidence to support that the newspaper published articles about Brooklyn judge Larry Martin "with knowledge that [they] contained false information or with reckless disregard for whether or not the information contained therein was false." Shulman explained that even if the newspaper was unprofessional or negligent in its fact-checking or rush to publication, there was not enough evidence to establish actual malice or a willful avoidance of knowledge on their part.
“The decision represents a classic application of the actual malice standard designed to protect critical comments about public officials including judges," said Laura Handman, attorney for the newspaper and columnist.
Martin’s attorney, Harold Schwab, stated in court papers that Louis "publicly assassinated" Martin "without regard for the true facts in order to accomplish his muckraking agenda." Schwab did not return a call for comment.
In 2008, Martin sued the New York Daily News, former columnist Errol Louis and attorney Ravi Batra, alleging that Louis wrote several erroneous articles and blog posts, based on tips from Batra. The stories accused Martin of presiding over a case involving a lawyer who had previously represented Martin in a proceeding before the state Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Shulman, who had dismissed some of the claims in 2009, including those against Batra, said, "because defendants' statements about Martin related solely to his role as a public official, the burden rests with [Martin] to demonstrate not only that the statements are false, but with clear and convincing evidence that defendants acted with actual malice in publishing the falsehoods."
“The bar is set high for a public official to recover monetary damages based upon the publication of defamatory misstatements of facts concerning that individual's conduct while acting in his or her official capacity," the court opinion stated.