Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Captive Reader Not Easily Defamed

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The dedicated staff at "TUOL" was remiss in not reporting on an interesting libel decision late last month by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Michtavi v.New York Daily News, The Polish Daily News, et al. (Case No. 08-2111-cv).

Michtavi, acting pro se, sued the defendants for libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress for reporting that he was cooperating with prosecutors and planned to testify against his former boss, reputed crime figure Ze'ev Rosenstein. Michtavi, a "key lieutenant" of Rosenstein, presently is serving a 20-year prison term for narcotics-related offenses.

The plaintiff, an Israeli citizen, had no problem with being branded a "key lieutenant" of Rosenstein, but believed his character was sullied by the defendants' claim that he planned to cooperate with authorities.  The district court trial judge said the statement at issue could not be construed as having a defamatory meaning and tossed the case, a position that the appellate court has upheld.

A successful defamation claimant must demonstrate that a false statement published about him harmed his reputation by subjecting him to hatred, ridicule and contempt by a substantial respectable segment of the community. Therein lies the rub for the yardbird plaintiff in this case.

Whereas Michtavi's current community of cons may look down their incarcerated noses at him for singing to the authorities, the Second Circuit noted that "right-thinking pesons" would not consider it defamatory, but rather, good form, to cooperate with authorities in the pursuit of justice.

It is believed this is the first case the jailhouse lawyer has lost.
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