Famed attorney Alan Dershowitz sued CNN for defamation related to its coverage of his argument in the first Trump impeachment trial. He alleges that CNN misleadingly edited a clip of his statements to give a false impression about his argument… and then propagated that misperception by replaying the clip and repeating it through pundits who based their arguments on the inaccurate summary of his statement. CNN filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that his claim does not rise to the high level needed to show defamation against a public figure, among other things. The judge ruled that the claim does meet that burden, allowing the case to go forward, and scoring a huge win for Dershowitz.
One of the arguments made by CNN is that their coverage of Dershowitz’s arguments should be protected by the fair report privilege. The court agreed that verbatim statements in a public proceeding like an impeachment trial are generally protected when they are repeated verbatim, or are an “accurate or a fair abridgement.” But here, Dershowitz’s claim was that there was a deliberate scheme to defraud by playing the truncated clip, and then playing the pundits’ statements to present the comments in a defamatory matter. He will still have to prove it at trial, but Dershowitz’s allegations are sufficient to defeat the motion to dismiss. The court agreed with Dershowitz that “CNN presented an official proceeding in a misleading manner and the fair report privilege does not apply.”
This is bad for CNN. The court went on to explain that the abridgement of Dershowitz’s statement was inaccurate, in that it omitted a crucial qualification. The court said CNN could argue to a jury that Dershowitz’s statement was ambiguous and that CNN was reasonable in its belief about what Dershowitz argued. That’s a tough sell in light of the qualifying statements that CNN chose to redact from the clip. A failure to defeat a motion to dismiss is usually when media companies see the writing on the wall and look to settle. But beyond the liability for damages here, it’s bad for CNN because the judge essentially made a finding that CNN was presenting false reporting. The court said, “For the fair report privilege to apply, a defendant must have ‘presented a fair and accurate report of the source documents.’ The CNN broadcasts do not meet that standard.” [citation omitted].
Ouch. The “Most Trusted Name in News” just had a federal judge make a finding that it failed to present fair and accurate information.
This could also be bad for other media outlets, particularly those of the cable talk-show type. While it may feel good for them to dance a little over CNN’s misfortune, many other stations have used the format where they play a clip, and then have pundits attack the speaker. This ruling suggests than if they A: play a clip that is edited or redacted so as to be misleading, and B: then repeat it through pundits, even if those commentators couch their punditry as criticism. That’s been a common practice on many media outlets, and CNN has now shown that they can be called on that practice. This is an important ruling for defamation law.
In a shocking federal lawsuit, women working for the Harris County, Texas, Constable’s Office detail allegations of wild “Bachelor Party” prostitution stings, where female deputies were assigned to work undercover. The women allege they were then subject to sexual harassment, both physical and verbal, from other deputies, including more senior ranking officers. Their instructions were to act like hookers at a bachelor party, under the theory that sting targets would be more likely to agree to partake in criminal acts. However, the male deputies then proceeded to treat them like sex workers, all while drinking and partying. Real alcohol was provided by the department, and consumed by all, while the assistant chief and others allegedly groped them under the guise of ‘maintaining cover.’
The suit also alleges that during another operation a undercover female deputy was sent to a massage parlor with the instructions to “wait to be sexually assaulted” to give the raid signal. Multiple other allegations, including job retaliation and discovery violations were also reported. The Constable’s Office denies the allegations and claims the suit is “an effort to impugn the good reputation of the hard-working men and women” of his office.
A judge in Palm Beach County filed contempt charges against Derrick Jenkins, who was sentenced to 30 days in jail, for a harshly worded letter critical of the judge after Jenkins’ case was dismissed. In addition to being critical, Jenkin’s letter was profane, stating ““f—— hypocrit” and he “cant wait til the voters wake up and get rid of these f—— clowns you call judges.” [sic] Judge Howard Coates did not take kindly and initiated contempt proceedings. Another judge was assigned, and found Jenkins’ words a danger to the orderly administration of justice, found Jenkins guilty or contempt of court, and sentenced him to 30 days in jail with 6 months of probation.
If that sounds a problematic, you’re right. The First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech, and its protections are strongest for speech that is critical of the government. There are limits, for instance it wouldn’t be prudent to shout insults and expletives at a judge in open court. However, there was no disruption of any proceedings in this case. In fact, Mr. Jenkins’ underlying case was closed, the court had dismissed his claim against the Sheriff’s Office, so there was no pending matter. The letter would lose its protection if it contained true threats, but claiming an investigation or to have a judge voted out is not a true threat- that’s the Constitutionally preferred way to deal with those officials we disagree with. Judge Warner said, “That’s what you do when you’re unhappy with the judge. You say, ‘we’re going to vote him out of office'” according to the Palm Beach Post.
Appellate arguments were Tuesday, and the statements and questions raised by the judicial panel hearing the appeal don’t appear to take kindly to the arguments in favor of the conviction. The case does not seem to meet any of the exceptions to the protections provided by the first amendment, in spite of the fact the allegations may have been “scandalous and noxious,” in the words of the offended judge. It will likely be several weeks or even a few months until the appellate court rules.
Francine Bogumil has been recommended for disbarment for her actions involving her former husband. She is currently serving a sentence of just under a year for leaving her children at home, going to the home of her ex and his new girlfriend, rammed his SUV, driving it into the garage door, then started trashing the car of the new girlfriend. When her ex came out to confront her, she slapped him a couple times, prompting him to slap her back. When law enforcement arrived, she spat on the deputy who tried to break them up. She had texted threats to her former husband before coming over and causing the scene, all of which was in violation of prior restraining orders against her for prior threats.
She had a hearing with a bar referee last week, who recommended her permanent disbarment- she had already been suspended from the practice of law based her her arrests. She spent some time in an in-patient rehab, and will has community control (house arrest), followed by more probation when she gets out of jail. Ms Bogumil had been a member of the bar since 2006. The facts of this case are so crazy, I don’t have much to add. except that she is clearly troubled, and hopefully gets the help she needs to eventually be a mom to her kids.