Melania Trump's libel suit against blogger going forward
A Maryland judge has ruled that First Lady Melania Trump's libel suit against a blogger who posted statements about her alleged past involvement in a "high-end escort" service will move forward, but it remains unclear whether her claims against The Daily Mail will be allowed to proceed.
Trump sued The Daily Mail and Maryland blogger Webster Griffin Tarpley in September 2016 for allegedly false and defamatory statements about her past. Both The Daily Mail and Tarpley retracted their stories.
Attorneys for the parties appeared in court in Maryland's Montgomery County Friday morning for a hearing on the defense teams' motions to dismiss the lawsuit.
The central legal issue is whether the stories by Tarpley and The Daily Mail contained statements that were made with knowledge of their falsity or with "reckless disregard for the truth."
Tarpley's lawyer argued Friday that that his blog post about the "rumors" surrounding Trump was protected under the First Amendment because she is a public figure, and Tarpley cut:[he] sought to provoke a "conversation" about what effect "those rumors were having on the [presidential] campaign."
"You can publish rumors without knowing that they're false," said attorney Danielle Giroux.
"That's not how the law works -- you can't report a rumor if it's not true and it damages someone's reputation," countered Trump's lawyer, Charles Harder. "The job of a reporter is to vet a story before it's published."
"You can't just say anything you want about someone, especially when it causes them harm," Harder added.
Judge Sharon Burrell ruled from the bench that Trump had sufficiently made out a claim for defamation against Tarpley and denied the motion to dismiss at this stage.
"There can be no more defamatory statement than to call a woman a prostitute," Burrell said.
The judge did, however, dismiss Trump's additional claim against Tarpley for tortious inference with her prospective business advantage as too vague, but permitted Trump's lawyer leave to file an amended complaint on that count by February 7, 2017.
The Daily Mail separately argued that the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case in Maryland because it doesn't have any offices, employees or other ties to the state.
"It's not enough to post an article on the website," said attorney Kelli Sager.
The judge deferred ruling on The Daily Mail's jurisdictional motion and said she would issue a written opinion "as soon as possible."
While the First Lady made appearance in court last December, she did not attend the hearing on Friday (nor was she required to). Her attorney also successfully represented Hulk Hogan in his invasion of privacy lawsuit against Gawker.
If this case goes forward, trial is set to begin on November 6, 2017.