An unusual $10 million defamation suit against an attorney brought by a Brooklyn, N.Y., judge for allegedly telling a New York Daily News columnist the judge improperly presided over a case involving a lawyer who represented the judge before the judicial conduct commission has been dismissed.
However, while Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Martin Shulman dismissed all claims against attorney Ravi Batra, he allowed a defamation claim to proceed against the Daily News and columnist Errol Louis, finding that "the average reader might have concluded from one of Mr. Louis' columns that Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Larry D. Martin is a corrupt jurist" under investigation.
On the claims against Batra, Shulman found in Martin v. Daily News, 100053/08, that Martin failed to show the lawyer had control over the publication of the allegedly defamatory article.
Martin sued the paper and Batra earlier this year, claiming he was defamed by two articles and several blog postings regarding judicial corruption in Brooklyn.
On Jan. 28, 2007, Louis wrote an op-ed piece in which he described the judicial process in Brooklyn as "a snakepit filled with bribery and back-room political deals" that was on the verge of being "blown wide open."
Louis cited an action brought by Batra against attorney Jerome M. Karp, Riskin v. Karp, 34131/06, in which Batra alleged that Karp, who had represented Martin before the Commission on Judicial Conduct, simultaneously represented a party in the multimillion-dollar real estate dispute before Martin, Singer v. Riskin, 015812/01.
Batra claimed Karp failed to disclose to the parties his affiliation with the judge.
Louis' article concluded with, "Batra claims that Karp tried to rig the case by simultaneously representing Singer and the judge hearing his case."
Karp was counsel to Martin before the conduct commission, which in a determination issued in December 2001 and modified in June 2002 admonished the judge for sending ex parte letters seeking favorable consideration on behalf of defendants awaiting sentencing in other courts.
On Feb. 8, 2007, in a follow-up Daily News piece, Louis described Martin's admonition and wrote that the judge was "in the hot seat again" for allegedly overseeing a case involving his "personal lawyer" and mistakenly cited another case related to the real estate litigation, Singer v. Riskin, 015812/01, over which Martin never presided.
After readers pointed out Louis' error on the paper's blog, The Daily Politics, he clarified the case caption but stuck by his claim that the judge should have recused himself.
"It's clear as a bell and you know it," Louis wrote.
Batra then vouched for Louis in a blog post in which he wrote, "[T]he facts are the facts, and Errol Louis has it right."
In another blog post, Batra wrote that "[i]t is a matter of now-documented fact that Justice Larry D. Martin was then represented by Jerome Karp before NYS Commission on Judicial Conduct, albeit, then an undisclosed and unknown fact."
Martin contended he was defamed in the articles because "they accuse, or were intended to be understood by reasonable readers as accusing plaintiff of corruption and criminal conduct which tend to injure him in his profession."
Further, Martin claimed Batra was the source of the articles and defamed him again through the blog posts, claiming the "unequivocal reaffirmation ('the facts are the facts')" by Batra of the second article was defamatory.