Howard M. Cooper, a Boston personal injury attorney who won a libel lawsuit worth $2 million for Judge Ernest B. Murphy, now says that he has seen an upswing of judges claiming libel. The Boston Globe reports that the Boston injury lawyer is now the man that judges go to when they feel like they are being defamed by media outlets over how they handle their caseloads.
According to the Boston Globe, judges felt like they could not speak out against such media outlets because of specific rules of judicial conduct that prevented them from talking about cases that currently are, or might possibly come before them. However, with media outlets possibly printing defamatory comments, judges finally feel like they have to do something because their reputations are on the line.
Retired Virgin Islands Superior Court Judge Leon A. Kendall told the Boston Globe: "If I don't care about damage to my reputation, I might as well die. You can't be printing lies about public officials under the guise of the First Amendment.''
However, there are many who feel that judges who get litigious with the press only make the situation worse. Bruce W. Sanford, who is a lawyer in Washington said: "There's something unattractive about judges suing to recover money damages when they, above all other officials, should be used to criticism and commentary on their judicial decisions.''
While this is true, defamation as a tort is not so simple for judges. While a general citizen can put together a defamation claim by proving that there was a false statement that was published to a third party that was injurious and unprivileged, a public official such as a judge has an additional element in a defamation claim. A public official must prove that the defendant acted with "actual malice." Actual malice means that the defendant must have known that the false injurious statement was untrue or didn't care whether it was true or not.
It seems that even with this additional element, some judges are prevailing in their libel cases. Is this perhaps a sign that media outlets are going too far?
Defamation can happen to anyone, not just judges. If you feel that you have possibly been defamed, it may be worth your time to meet with a Boston injury lawyer.