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No Libel in Writer’s Hint of Dead Man’s Nazi Past

(CN) - New York Times writer Eric Lichtblau did not defame a New Jersey attorney by implying that his murdered father was a Nazi war criminal, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

Attorney Aslan Soobzokov sued D.C.-based New York Times writer Eric Lichtblau and the Boston-based Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing in Newark Federal Court on Sept. 14, 2015.

The dispute stems from Houghton Mifflin's October 2014 publishing of "The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler's Men," in which Lichtblau explores how the feds let certain former Nazis immigrate after World War II, according to the complaint.

Lichtblau first contacted Soobzokov while researching the book in 2011, seeking information about his late father, Tscherim Soobzokov, the complaint said.

Accused of being a Nazi war criminal - but never indicted or deported - the father was murdered at his New Jersey home in 1985, according to the complaint.

Over 25 years later, the son allegedly agreed to speak with Lichtblau, in person "for nearly seven full days," on the phone, and through emails and texts, giving and letting Lichtblau copy documents regarding the father's involvement in World War II.

Lichtblau's book not only contains some of that information, but also mentions the son in the acknowledgements and three other sections, the complaint stated.

Yet Soobzokov's five-count complaint alleged the book defamed him and his father, invaded their privacy, and gave him emotional distress.

U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton dismissed the suit for failure to state a claim on Tuesday, noting that claims cannot be brought on behalf of the deceased under New Jersey law.

"Although it is clear that plaintiff is troubled by Lichtblau's book, he has failed to show that he has been defamed," Wigenton wrote.

The book mentions the plaintiff only four times - not five - the unpublished ruling states.

"Lichtblau describes plaintiff's long-standing belief in his father's innocence and efforts to defend his father's name," Wigenton wrote. "Nothing in that passage is injurious to plaintiff's reputation or would subject him to ridicule, contempt or hatred. Lichtblau is merely attempting to describe an understandable pattern of behavior seen in first-generation children of accused Nazis who 'believe in their fathers and their innocence.'"

The author's note that the son "rushed back from the Middle East to be with his father" as he was dying "indicates admirable filial devotion and is not defamatory," the judge ruled.

Lichtblau did not defame the son by writing that he "pressed authorities to reopen the investigation" into his father's murder and unsuccessfully sued prosecutors for allegedly failing to "bring charges against anyone because of his father's notoriety as a Nazi," the judge ruled.

This section rather "evidences a son's devotion to his father and desire to obtain answers about his murder," Wigenton wrote.

Lichtblau's written thanks for the plaintiff's "cooperation" does not imply that he helped write a book that falsely accused his father of "being a Nazi war criminal," the judge ruled.

"Although plaintiff may dislike or disagree with conclusions Lichtblau drew when writing the book, plaintiff did cooperate with Lichtblau, meeting with him for several days, communicating by telephone, email and text, and providing him with documents," Wigenton wrote. "Lichtblau's thanks provided a truthful description of plaintiff's involvement with the development of the book, and truthful statements can never be defamatory."

The judge dismissed the emotional distress claims as well.

The parties have yet to return a request for comment.

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