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Positive Covid test for Sarah Palin delays defamation trial

“She is, of course, unvaccinated,” a federal judge said of the former Alaska governor, who has spoken out against mandates during the coronavirus pandemic.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Former Governor Sarah Palin tested positive for the coronavirus on the eve of her federal defamation trial against The New York Times, delaying the proceedings by 10 days. 

Palin sued the Times some five years ago over an editorial that drew a link between Palin’s political action committee and a deadly shooting spree in Arizona. Jury selection was set to begin on Monday. 

"Ms. Palin had tested positive for coronavirus,” U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff said Monday morning. “She is, of course, unvaccinated."

Last month, as the omicron variant of the virus otherwise known as Sars-CoV2 ripped across the planet, Palin spurned government mandates for Americans to get vaccinated.

“It’ll be over my dead body that I’ll have to get a shot,” she told a crowd in Phoenix. “I will not do that. I won’t do it, and they better not touch my kids either.”

Rakoff asked Palin to take a rapid PCR test after two at-home tests came up positive, while parties spent the time going over motions in limine. 

According to her counsel, Palin “was confused” by the different options for a rapid test and one that can take three or four days to get results, and couldn’t reach an attorney to clarify, since his phone was turned off in court. She ended up taking a third rapid test, which was enough to convince the judge to move the trial date. 

Rakoff had hoped to avoid a delay, noting that trial was already pushed back months, if not years. Plus, he missed some big football games while preparing. 

“I was disappointed because I worked on this over the weekend and didn’t get to see any of the playoffs,” he added. 

Palin’s attorneys said their client wanted to be present for jury selection and to testify in-person. They did not comment on the case as they exited the Manhattan federal courthouse. 

The claims center on an editorial called “America’s Lethal Politics,” which connected the nation’s pattern of mass shootings to overheated political rhetoric, citing as one example the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that left a federal judge and five others people dead at a Congress on Your Corner event hosted by the newly inducted Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Before the Jan. 8, 2011, rampage that killed a federal judge and five others, Palin’s political action committee had disseminated a map that put crosshairs over Giffords’ electoral district and those of 19 other Democrats. The crosshairs were removed shortly after the murders.

Denying any malice toward the former running mate of former presidential candidate John McCain, the Times pointed out that it acted quickly to correct the article. 

“There was an honest mistake in posting the editorial,” said Times attorney David A. Schulz, of the firm Ballard Spahr, shortly after the complaint was filed. “It was corrected within 12 or 13 hours. That's all the facts, and it's laid out in the complaint.”

Palin claims that though the Times apologized to readers, “and posted two woefully insufficient online ‘corrections,’” the paper did not “meaningfully retract it [the editorial] or apologize.”

She also objects, among other things, that the Times did not mention her name in the corrections.

Judge Rakoff, a Clinton appointee, tossed the claims in the Southern District of New York, but the suit was revived by the Second Circuit in late 2017. 

Turning to pre-trial matters while the court awaited Palin’s test results, Rakoff ruled Monday that the Times can exclude evidence related to Bennett’s departure from the paper, but deferred judgment on “other controversies” during his tenure.

Also left for later was the decision over whether to allow the Times to admit a video of Palin recently competing on the reality TV show "The Masked Singer." Wearing a pink and blue fuzzy fear costume, Palin danced and rapped to Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” 

Palin’s team objects to bringing the video into evidence. 

Judge Rakoff said he “took the liberty” of watching the video via the New York Post. He noted the attorneys’ objection but provided his own take on the clip.

“Frankly, I thought she was charming,” he said. 

Trial is expected to begin on February 3. 

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