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Nov 21, 2007

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Don Moore

The discover process and depositions should be very interesting. I'm surprised that the police officers' attorney didn't advise them that they would be required to testify under oath before the trial. It opens them up to admissions (if Bledsoe is correct) that will result in their immediate dismissal from the police department, provided that the Police Department is following accepted practices.

Billy The Blogging Poet

I suspect two cops have just set down at a table where the stakes are much higher than they can afford to gamble. I suspect this suit is an attempt to scare Hammer and Bledsoe off the story but while it could have worked they forgot one thing-- John Hammer knows lots of lawyers and several who will probably work for free to get in on the counter suit.

Ed Cone

"I'm surprised that the police officers' attorney didn't advise them that they would be required to testify under oath before the trial."

Sorry if I've missed this fact in the Thnxgiving fog -- how do you know that the officers were not advised of this by their attorneys?

It will be interesting to see what documentary evidence is revealed if this case goes forward.

Jeffrey Sykes

I believe Ben has published internal pd documents that conclude that Fulmore hung out with a prostitute and drug user, so it is going to be fun to watch them argue the definition of *hang out with*.

Also, their opening salvo seems to pin Bledsoe's defamation on Wray being a very bad man.

Arguing all this in front of a jury will be great to watch.

There are a lot of claims about the veracity of GNR reports in the lawsuit. It seems like the officers bit off the entire Wray Fray in this one lawsuit, which is likely a very poor legal strategy.

Ed Cone

Off all the possible outcomes of this suit, one that strikes me as unlikely is that the attorneys involved in bringing it are complete morons who know less about the case and the law than the average blog-commenter.

I could be wrong. It would be yet another interesting storyline.

John Robinson

Just to pose the contrarian (to most of the blogosphere discussion) possibility: Let's assume that Mr. Rossabi is a good lawyer, which, by all accounts I've heard and read, is a safe assumption. As a good lawyer, let's also assume he has advised his clients of how the case will likely proceed, including the purpose and process of depositions. His clients, knowing these things, have elected to proceed.

Why? There are many possibilities, including:
* they believe they were libeled and want to clear their names;
* they believe evidence is on their side and want it to come out in court (as opposed to in the Rhino);
* they think they can game the legal system and depositions and win;
* they think it won't ever get as far as depositions and they'll get a quick payoff in a settlement.

There are other possibilities, of course. Which seems the most logical? Me, it seems like it is one of the first two.

I was surprised that John mocked the lawsuit in yesterday's edition, even as he acknowledged some errors of fact. That showed me his confidence in winning the case because if he doesn't my guess is that that article will be introduced as evidence in the argument for punitive damages.

Ed, you're right. It will be interesting to watch.

Spag/The CA

JR's post is actually pretty good. The other possibility is that this lawsuit is leverage in their suit against the City and is necessary if they want to win.

It goes to damages. For a long time, people have asked "if what the Rhino is printing isn't true, where are the lawsuits?"

So we get a lawsuit against the City by these two. But there is a problem- in order to win, they have to prove the suspicions against them were unwarranted. It is hard to do that when you don't fight the source of the public revelations of some of those suspicions.

In other words, if you believe that the GPD/City unfairly discriminated against you based on false accusations, how come you haven't sued the Rhino for printing said accusations? If I was an attorney for the City and I had to argue in front of a jury, I would surely have made that point. It goes directly to the issue of damages.

The City/GPD investigates them based on racial animosity. In the process, false allegations of wrong doing come out. These allegations are published in the Rhino, we suffer damages. If you don't sue the Rhino, it appears that you aren't really concerned about damages. Remember, they are already going to be subject to depositions in the City/GPD suit, so that isn't anything new.

It is also noteworthy as Ed pointed out and JR alludes to, it is very difficult to sue a newspaper and win under these circumstances unless you can prove malice. If there is credible evidence of wrongdoing by James & Fulmore, even if it is not conclusive, I don't see how they can possibly win.

Amiel knows what he is doing, but like all lawyers, you have to rely in large part on what your client is telling you and frequently they don't always tell you everything which almost always ends up coming back to haunt them. All of JR's theories are plausible, but they aren't exclusive as he points out.

Spag/The CA

Correction: Only Fulmore is suing the City, but I think the analysis still holds. But for the actions of the City, there would be no Rhino story and no damages. I think that is the chain of events that might explain the Rhino suit among the other theories advanced. Or quite possibly it was done simply to answer the question "if the allegations aren't true, why hasn't anyone sued the Rhino yet?"

Quite frankly, most of the allegations in the lawsuit seem to be protected journalism under the First Amendment and are based on alleged inaccuracies that are of little substantive value.

Bledsoe was fully aware of the legal consequences of what he was writing, so I'm quite certain he has all of his ducks in a row and probably has or will have substantial backing to defend against this suit.

Of all the lawsuits and criminal actions filed in this matter so far, this one is by far the most interesting because it puts the whole Rhino series front and center.

At the end of the day, this all ends up on the City's doorstep. Either they were justified in how they handled the Wray matter and everything we are seeing now is Wray's fault for not taking his medicine, admitting he was wrong and simply going away; or they totally botched it at City Hall and we are now seeing how far reaching those decisions made by a few have gone and how many lives are being effected not to mention the negative effects on the citizenry. If the former is true, the law may provide some recourse to some victims. If the latter ends up being true, there needs to be some serious accountability at City Hall.

Anonymous

Despite accurate statements that Mr. Rossabi and the rest of the staff in his law firm are excellent and very capable attorneys, libel lawsuits in NC are rarely successful. As Mr. Robinson proposed, I suspect that this case is more about trying to advance the plaintiff's side of the story in public than trying to win a monetary award in court.

Even if the plaintiffs can prove that the Rhinocerous Times was negligent and printed material that was incorrect or false, they then have to make a case for their actual damages that they believe were caused by the false statements.

They will not receive punitive damages except in the most stringent of circumstances.

The US Supreme Court has not allowed punitive damages in libel cases, except in cases where "actual malice" can be proven. In most cases, it is very hard to prove actual malice unless there is an actual "smoking gun" such as an e-mail that shows the publisher's intent or statement to that effect. It may also be shown if the Rhinocerous Times knew the information was false and printed it anyway (or could have easily investigated the veracity of the false information it but did not).

Higher courts have also required that the evidence for "actual malice" to be "clear and convincing" evidence, which is a high level to reach.

It is also possible that the NC Shield Law may also get in the way of revealing the Rhino's sources of information for the article, making it hard to prove that they knew the information was incorrect.

In addition, although the rank and file police officer who filed suit may not qualify, if I were the defendant I would argue that the other police officer -- a lieutenant -- would qualify as a "public official" who is a high-ranking law enforcement official in the public eye. Although not an elected official, by advancing to his level in the PD, he certainly has placed himself in the public spotlight.

As such, his burden of proof for libel would be much higher than a normal citizen who merely has to show error in the publication and he would have to show actual malice in order to win any actual damages at all.

Again, their case is an uphill one but they certainly have good counsel on their side. But I think we'll certainly see this played out in the media one way or the other before it ever even goes to trial.

Nick

Frankly,I am glad to see this even if they lose the lawsuit. It amazes me that Hammer only now acknowledges "some errors of fact." Would that have happened without this lawsuit. (doubtful) i believe in freedom of speech but the Rhino is a weekly of hate speech. Just read the beeps...Why the Rhino is shocked that the KKK puts literature in their publications is a no brainer. I have always felt this publication was bad for our community

Ian McDowell

While there are clearly some racist scumbags calling "The Sound of the Beep" on a regular basis (not all of whom, btw, are whites exhibiting prejudice towards blacks), none of the Rhino's editorial or journalistic content strikes me as even remotely "hate speech." "Asshole speech," yes, particular Hammer's braying insistence on referring to "Barack Hussein Obama in every editorial, which only makes Hammer look like a choad. But "hate speech"? Not even close, and nothing in the above post makes me change my belief that every sentence that begins "I believe in free speech, but . . . ." deserves a judicially placed elbow after the "but."

The Rhino is often poorly written, albeit not all that much worse so than the non-Clary articles in YES! Weekly (Clary can write rings around Hammer, but most of his staff can't.) And John and William's copy is badly in need of the old blue pencil, as just about article is 33% longer than it needs to be (presumably to give them more ad space).

But having said that, I think they've published worthwhile stuff that nobody else would touch (as much as I hate to do it, I congratulate Hammer for having the balls to run the controversial "Mohammed" cartoons.) And whatever its flaws, "Cops in Black and White" has performed a public service that I can't imagine anyone else doing.

Don't get me wrong; I think they've committed some grievous sins, and no, I don't always trust them (I strongly suspect that many of the "anonymous" letters to the editor were written by staff members, and wish they'd drop the questionable practice of publishing anonymous material entirely). But the Bledsoe series hasn't been one of those sins.

jw

"But the Bledsoe series hasn't been one of those sins."

I would submit to you that Hammer admitting that there are "minor mistakes" and "errors" does indeed make the series a sin.

Brian Clarey

Ian:
I appreciate the compliment, but I've got to stick up for my people. Amy Kingsley and Jordan Green absolutely kick ass at what they do, and I learn things from them every day.
That being said, let's kick back and watch the fun. Is anybody taking any action on this thing?

jw

I'd put something on Hammer claiming he was misquoted in the N&R and that he DIDN'T say there were errors in the story.

Bubba

"I would submit to you that Hammer admitting that there are 'minor mistakes' and 'errors' does indeed make the series a sin."

If that's the case, then the N&R and the Mitch/Miles and their elected/blogified Cheerleading Teams are guilty of heinous sin.

Spag/The CA

Bubba, you stole my retort.

Ian McDowell

Actually, Brian, you're right about Ms. Kingsley, whom I should have also credited as one of publication's strengths.

JW, that would depend on what those errors actually are, and whether or not the mistakes were truly "minor."

Sue

When published errors are errors of fact, they are usually corrected in a newspaper's never-visible-enough "Getting it Right" section (often on page 2). Did the Rhino publish (or do you think they will publish) a listing of corrections for the never-ending Bledsoe series? That might be as interesting as the ongoing David Wray story that seems to be based on interviews with Chief Wray and little documentation (endnotes/footnotes) of those conversations (including date/time and if they were recorded).

If the N&R published factual errors and if/when you get proof of same, do you doubt they will publish corrections?

And one more thing: if you're given "fact" and you get confirmation of said fact, and LATER it's proved to be "not a fact," I'm not sure "sin" is involved (but a correction is). Who do you count on to issue such corrections in that scenario?

Ed Cone

The Rhino has printed one significant correction in the Bledsoe series that I'm aware of -- you can read it at the bottom of this column. In it, Bledsoe says: "I talked with a source at the district attorney's office...That memory obviously was faulty. I should have checked the court records. That was my oversight and I apologize for it."

In my view, journalists should taken even minor errors seriously. The allegations in the lawsuits are not minor.

As for the comment above about monetary damages, I don't think such damages are the real issue here. They are, as noted, very difficult to win. The sums involved seem unlikely to cripple the Hammers, the Rhino, or Bledsoe. But a finding or admission that significant facts had been misstated, and that the reason for any such errors was the kind of research and editing admitted in the apology linked above, would seem quite a blow to the paper and the series.

If the story as reported withstands scrutiny, though, Bledsoe and the Rhino will look like heroes.

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