No Libel Found in Stories on Virgin Islands Judge

     (CN) – A superior court judge in the U.S. Virgin Islands failed to prove journalists defamed him by implying that the jurist granted bail to a man despite knowing that the suspect had a violent criminal history, the territory’s top court ruled.



     Judge Leon A. Kendall of the sued the Virgin Islands Daily News and two writers, Joy Blackburn and Joseph Tsidulko, for articles that ran between 2004 and 2009.
     Some of the articles criticized Kendall’s bail decisions, another called for his resignation, and another reported on his decision to retire.
     Kendall also claimed the paper falsely reported that judicial misconduct charges were pending against him.
     One allegedly defamatory article reported on Kendall’s decision to grant bail to Daniel Castillo, who was accused of murdering a 12-year-old girl. The judge took issue with the paper’s headline that he released Castillo on his own recognizance, “despite history of violence.”
     A jury ruled that Blackburn and the Daily News had committed defamation, though it cleared Tsidulko of any liability for his articles. Two months later, however, the trial court chucked the jury’s $240,000 award to Kendall with a directed verdict.
     Kendall appealed, but the Virgin Islands Supreme Court affirmed the decision in favor of the Daily News.
     “Even if we were to find that the articles cited are reasonably capable of implying that Judge Kendall was aware of the facts surrounding Castillo’s criminal history when he released Castillo on his own recognizance, Judge Kendall has failed to produce clear and convincing evidence that the Daily News or Blackburn intended to convey this impression,” Chief Justice Hodge wrote on behalf of the court.
     The editorial called for Kendall’s resignation because he “acts with arrogance and disregard for the community he is supposed to serve,” among other reasons.
     Hodge agreed with the trial court that the editorial consisted of constitutionally protected opinion.
     “Nowhere in the editorial does the author suggest or even imply that Judge Kendall’s bail decisions amount to unethical conduct or violate his duties and responsibilities as a judge,” Hodge wrote.

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