News Outlets Off Hook |for Defamation Claims

     (CN) – Two U.S. news outlets did not defame a Florida lawyer accused of abusing his children and not working for a client, a federal judge ruled.
     Larry Klayman sued City Pages, Phoenix New Times, The Voice Media Group and their reporters, claiming they defamed him when they published three articles accusing related to judicial proceedings in Ohio and Florida.
     As recounted in U.S. District Judge Anne Conway’s opinion, in June 2009, Klayman and his former wife were involved in a contentious child custody battle in Ohio.
     The magistrate concluded the attorney engaged in inappropriate touching of his child, and also gave a high level of credence to the testimony of the children’s physician, who reported allegations of sexual abuse to children’s services.
     Klayman objected to these conclusions and several others, but ultimately an appeals court held the magistrate did not abuse his discretion in reaching his conclusions, Conway wrote.
     Unrelated to the Ohio family law proceedings, in early 2011, the Florida Bat accused Klayman of violating rules regulating the Florida Bar. The accusations stemmed from a complaint lodged by Natalia Humm, who said she paid Klayman a $25,000 retainer, but that he failed to ever do any legal work for her.
     The dispute went to mediation, and that matter appeared resolved — until Klayman failed to make timely payments as spelled out in the mediation agreement. This led to further proceedings by the Florida Bar. Klayman paid the money he owed, and consented to a public reprimand, Conway wrote.
     Details from these cases were first reported in September 2012. Shortly thereafter, Klayman sued the publication and its reporter, Aaron Rupar.
     The first of the articles was titled “Bradlee Dean’s Attorney, Larry Klayman, Allegedly Sexually Abused His Own Children.” The story, which appeared in a publication called City Pages, relied heavily on court documents from the Ohio case, and Rupar said he believed the details in the court documents to be true when made reference to them and that only used the word “criminal” in his story because he understood the conduct described was criminal in nature.
     The next story, “Birther Lawyer Fighting Joe Arpaio Recall Was Found to Have ‘Inappropriately Touched’ Kids,” appeared in the Phoenix New Times in February 2013. As in the case of the earlier publication, the reporter, Matthew Hendley said he relied on the Ohio court documents and believed the information he encountered in them to be true.
     The third story, “Larry Klayman Under Investigation by Arizona Bar,” appeared in the Phoenix New Times on June 18, 2013. In this case, reporter Michael Hendley said he based a portion of his article on documents generated during the Florida proceedings.
     On review, Judge Conway immediately dismissed all claims against defendant Voice Media Group, because, she said, while Voice Media owns the two offending publications, they are not “mere instrumentalities” of their owner.
     She also noted that Klayman offered no evidence that Voice Media formed the publications for the purpose of engaging in improper conduct.
     Conway moved on Klayman’s claim the publications acted with actual malice, but concluded his “failure to focus on whether or not the statements at issue were published with actual malice proves fatal to his claims.
     “This Court finds, as a matter of law, that no jury could find by clear and convincing evidence the existence of actual malice in the publication of any of the statements in question,” Conway wrote.
     “Accordingly, because the proof presented to show actual malice lacks the convincing clarity which the constitution demands, summary judgment is due to be granted in favor of Defendants on all Counts,” the judge concluded.
     But she end her opinion there. She went on to take what he conceded was the rare step of admonishing Klayman in advance of his anticipated appeal.
     “While the Court would not ordinarily conclude with an admonition, this is, of course, no
     ordinary case,” Conway wrote. “Plaintiff’s approach to this litigation has been quite suspect, to say the least. As has been made clear in this case, as well as through reviewing the relevant proceedings at issue, when Plaintiff receives unfavorable rulings, he often plunges into a tirade against whomever he feels has wronged him-here, it has taken the form of motions to reconsider, objections, and even a petition for writ of mandamus with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
     “This is all to say that the Court will review any motion for reconsideration of this Order with a very sharp lens,” the judge continued. “Should Plaintiff file a motion to reconsider, the Court forewarns Plaintiff that any such motion must at least arguably meet the stringent standard for reconsideration of an Order, at the risk of facing sanctions from the Court. To this end, Plaintiff should keep in mind his obligations under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure.”

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