A libel suit brought by Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Larry Martin (See Profile) against the New York Daily News and a former columnist has been dismissed. Martin sued the Daily News, its former columnist Errol Louis and attorney Ravi Batra in 2008 in Martin v. Daily News, 100053/08, claiming Batra was the source of two articles and related blog posts by Louis falsely accusing Martin of improperly presiding over a case involving a lawyer who had defended the judge before the state Commission on Judicial Conduct. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Martin Shulman (See Profile) earlier dismissed claims regarding the first article and dismissed Batra from the suit.
Ruling on the defendant's summary judgment motion yesterday, Shulman dismissed the entire suit, saying, "Because defendants' statements about Justice Martin related solely to his role as a public official, the burden rests with [Martin] to demonstrate not only that the statements are false, but with clear and convincing evidence that defendants acted with actual malice in publishing the falsehoods." But Shulman wrote that "a review of the parties' submissions, including Louis's deposition testimony, fails to reveal that defendants published the Second Article either with knowledge that it contained false information or with reckless disregard for whether or not the information contained therein was false." Even if the newspaper was unprofessional or negligent in its fact-checking or rush to publication, the judge said, it did not suffice to establish actual malice or establish a willful avoidance of knowledge on their part.
Martin, represented by Harold Schwab of Lester Schwab Katz & Dwyer, maintained in court papers that Louis "publicly assassinated" him "without regard for the true facts in order to accomplish his muckraking agenda." Schwab did not return a call for comment.
The newspaper and Louis' lawyer, Laura Handman of Davis Wright Tremaine, said the decision "is a strong affirmation of the protection afforded by the First Amendment for comments about public officials."