Wednesday, March 13, 2013

UPDATE: Fed Appeals Court Rules No Actual Malice in Judge's Libel Suit

Seal, United States Court of Appeals for the T...
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In its 39-page decision in The Hon. Leon A. Kendall v. The Daily News Publishing Co. d/b/a The Virgin Islands Daily News (Case No. 11-4162), the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit last week upheld the Virgin Islands Supreme Court's dismissal of a V.I. Superior Court Judge's defamation suit based on a series of 16 articles and an editorial that ran in the newspaper from 2006 to 2009.

The appellate court found that Judge Kendall, who filed suit in October 2007, and retired from the bench in 2009, failed to prove that the daily published the articles with actual malice, that is, knowing that the alleged defamatory statements were false or with reckless disregard of the offending material's truth or falsity.

An eight-member jury awarded Judge Kendall $240,000 in damages after a 12-day trial in March 2010, (see "TUOL" post 3/18/10), but a couple of months later, the court granted the defendants' motion for a directed verdict based on its finding of insufficient evidence to enable a reasonable juror to side with the plaintiff. Judge Kendall appealed to the Virgin Islands Supreme Court, which upheld the dismissal of the defamation suit.

The plaintiff's claims, in part, were based on the defendant's coverage that was critical of Judge Kendall's handling of a couple of criminal cases. An April 2007, article, according to the plaintiff's complaint, defamed him by inferring that Judge Kendall knew of an arrestee's violent past, but granted bail to the man who subsequently murdered a 12-year-old girl. The 3rd Circuit panel concluded that Judge Kendall did not prove the paper published the article with knowledge of its defamatory meaning or in reckless disregard of its known defamatory meaning.
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