Can a housewife from red state Alaska prevail in a libel case against the New York Times on their blue state home turf in front of a Democratic appointed judge?
M.J. Sheppard | July 28, 2017
Can a housewife from Wasilla, Alaska prevail in a libel case against the liberal New York Times in front of a Federal Judge appointed by Democratic president Bill Clinton in overwhelmingly Democratic New York?
The answer may be known on Monday July 31st when Federal Judge Jed Rakoff listens to lawyers for both Sarah Palin and The New York Times as they file their legal briefs on the case. Judge Rakoff advised he will consider dismissal on that day.
In summary, Palin has taken legal action for defamation against the newspaper for an editorial they ran in which it is alleged that the paper unfairly connected Palin to inciting the tragic shooting of then congresswoman Gabby Giffords and others .
There has been a wealth of opinion as to the chances of Palin’s claim succeeding, with a consensus that the historical precedence is against her. But there is a substantial body of opinion that the Times editorial was so egregious (in short, the Times accused Palin of committing a crime, one that endangered the lives and safety of innocent people) that the odds are not insurmountable.
On the face of it, this seems a David versus Goliath situation, with Palin and her legal team facing the massive resources of the New York Times. Palin is without a deep pocketed backer like the one Hulk Hogan had with Peter Thiel in his case against Gawker.
The further question is whether the weight of the establishment’s ‘paper of record’, the venue, and the leanings of a Democratic appointed judge are so great, that Palin’s strong case sees the scales of justice tipped against her?
Just days before the next court appearance, it was reported that Palin’s legal team has served notice that she plans to subpoena “twenty-three non-party current and former Times reporters, editors and other employees.” The implications of this move are massive.
This serves notice to the Times that all of their internal correspondence regarding Palin, including every negative comment about her that could show overt prejudice, would be open to public scrutiny. Such an opening of the books might be at a minimum, embarrassing.
Aside from their bias toward Palin, who knows what other internal machinations might surface. Perhaps attitudes toward now President Trump and his election campaign might be revealed.
The stakes are clearly very high for the Times, and if Judge Rakoff allows the plea to go to a jury trial, the risk is that other hidden agendas held by The Times might become unveiled in discovery. In such a circumstance, there could be immense pressure for the paper to pursue a private settlement.
David defeated Goliath with only a slingshot, but that was in single combat and on neutral ground. On the merits of this case, Palin seems to have a fighting chance, but will the field of combat be level? One usually leans toward trusting the impartiality of the judiciary, but in this present climate where judges in Hawaii are seen to challenge Supreme Court rulings on a blatant partisan basis, Palin is facing headwinds.
She has faced obstacles in the past and beaten the odds. We shall soon see whether she can do so again.
* Sarah Palin photo courtesy Gage Skidmore
* Blind Justice image courtesy Valerie Everett