Tacopina Sues Daily News, Kerik for Defamation

, New York Law Journal

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Prominent defense attorney Joseph Tacopina has hit the New York Daily News, two of its reporters and disgraced former police commissioner Bernard Kerik with a $15 million defamation action, alleging the trio schemed in a "clever, but corrupt plan" to have Kerik file a "meritless" disciplinary complaint that would clear the way for the newspaper to publish a libelous article questioning Tacopina's ethics (See Complaint).

Although reporting statements such as those in the disciplinary complaint are privileged under New York Civil Rights Law §74, which applies to a fair and true report of judicial proceedings, Tacopina's suit insists the privilege dissolved in a case with "a unique and outrageous set of facts" when journalists Nathaniel Vinton and Michael O'Keeffe allegedly conspired to avoid liability by premising their story on a purportedly bogus grievance they "induced" Kerik to file.

The federal suit, Tacopina v. Kerik, 14-cv-749, said neither Civil Rights Law §74 nor the litigation privilege—which shields parties from defamation allegations for statements made in connection to judicial proceedings—"protect people from purposefully, and in bad faith, engineering a situation where they may assert these privileges to protect themselves from the consequences of making statements they know to be defamatory."

It seeks $10 million against the Daily News and the reporters, and $5 million against Kerik.

Daily News Assistant General Counsel Matthew Leish said in a statement, "The claims are completely without merit and the allegation that the Daily News' reporters were involved in some sort of conspiracy is simply absurd. We will file our response in due course."

The suit, filed Wednesday in the Southern District, marks the latest round in a legal fight between Tacopina, of Tacopina Seigel & Turano, and Kerik, his former client—a brawl that now involves two journalists and one of the largest newspapers in the country.

Last month, Kerik sued Tacopina in New Jersey federal court for alleged misconduct that Kerik claims contributed to his 2009 tax fraud conviction (NYLJ, Feb. 5).

Tacopina countered a day later with a defamation suit against Kerik in Manhattan Supreme Court, attacking Kerik for, among other things, telling the Daily News reporters that Tacopina "discussed privileged conversations" with prosecutors in 2007.

Tacopina denies the allegation, pointing to Southern District Judge Stephen Robinson's 2010 holding in Kerik's federal criminal case that Tacopina's statements to prosecutors "cannot be considered confidential and privileged."

The assertion that Tacopina gave up privileged information without his client's knowledge or consent appears in a Dec. 28 Daily News article Vinton and O'Keeffe wrote with another reporter, which cited a complaint Kerik filed with the Appellate Division, First Department grievance committee.

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