Friday, January 6, 2017

Melania Trump, Daily Mail Spar Over Location Of Her Libel Lawsuit

The next first lady is challenging a "false" article about her journey to America, but the publication Trump is suing is contending she's in the wrong place.

The presidential election that resulted in Donald Trump's victory was unusual for a host of reasons. One of the many curious stories to appear related to whether his Slovene-born wife, Melania Trump, worked in the United States in the 1990s without a proper visa. Then came an even more bizarre story that connected Ms. Trump, a former model, to an escort agency. For that, Mail Media, parent company of the The Daily Mail, as well as a blogger named Webster Griffin Tarpley found themselves as defendants in a libel lawsuit.

The action was filed in Maryland, and now both sides are fighting over whether the lawsuit from Ms. Trump, who became a U.S. citizen a decade ago, really belongs in the state. Sometimes, jurisdiction is one of those dry procedural issues of law that glazes one's eyes. But this one deserves attention.

Trump is represented by Beverly Hills attorney Charles Harder, who found success in a Florida state court (after initially experiencing a setback in a federal one) against Gawker in the Hulk Hogan sex tape case. In an interview with THR last September, Harder admitted to having charts in his office mapping the differences in libel and privacy laws throughout the country. But there's more to the tactical game of litigation. Various states also have anti-SLAPP statutes that can sometimes result in plaintiffs having to pay defendants their legal fees in frivolous lawsuits that arise from First Amendment activity. Some jurisdictions have heavy case loads that move slowly, while other courts move at a more brisk pace. Not to be ignored, some judges have lifetime appointments, while others get on the bench through elections. That might be of importance in a case receiving the public spotlight.

In other words, it's no small deal where a lawsuit gets filed, and so when Harder filed this lawsuit in Maryland, naming one local blogger few had ever heard of as a co-defendant, one can presume he saw some advantage to the location. But was it proper? Can media outlets, now publishing widely, be dragged into the most inhospitable forums? If so, constitutional principles limiting public figures in lawsuits might take a back seat to other factors impacting the adjudication and outcome of a case.

Mail Media is now arguing it has no business in a Maryland court over a story headlined, "Naked photoshoots, and troubling questions about visa that won't go away: The VERY racy past of Donald Trump's Slovenian wife."