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A New York Supreme Court justice has ruled that The New York Post cannot defend itself in a libel suit by relying on the past credibility of an unnamed source if it refuses to identify the source. The ruling by New York County Supreme Court Justice Marylin G. Diamond is in response to a motion by the plaintiff in Linda Bement v. The New York Post, 109793/99, which sought an order directing the Post to comply with disclosure demands or precluding the paper from introducing evidence that it has refused to disclose. In her libel suit, Linda Bement, who won the Miss Universe pageant in 1960, claimed a story published by the Post was false, defamatory and libelous. The suit also alleges that the Post used Bement’s name for commercial purposes without her permission, and intentionally inflicted emotional distress on her. The 1998 story, by reporter Michael Shain, referred to an unpublished magazine article in which Bement supposedly said she was an agent for the Central Intelligence Agency who, while touring the world as Miss Universe, slept with foreign government officials so she could plant eavesdropping devices in their homes and offices. Bement was also said to have claimed that on several occasions she was raped by the men on whom she was spying. The reporter, Shain, has testified that he learned about the unpublished article from a movie industry source, upon whom he has relied for other newspaper stories. Shain said he agreed not to disclose the source’s identity to anyone outside the Post. In her ruling, Justice Diamond wrote that both parties agreed that �79-h of Civil Rights Law — the Shield Law — applies to this case, and that the Post cannot be held in contempt for refusing to identify the source. Diamond also found that the identity of the source is “of limited value” to Bement, and added that the Post would be “disproportionately penalize[d]” if it were precluded from at all relying on the source in justifying its story. But, Diamond ruled, the newspaper can not use the source’s past reliability to help prove that its review of the source’s information was reasonably diligent. “Without knowing the source’s identity and without the opportunity to take his or her deposition, the plaintiff would be substantially handicapped in her ability to rebut such a defense,” Justice Diamond wrote. Floyd Abrams, a First Amendment expert, said the ruling constituted a “very sophisticated analysis” on the part of the court as it tried to reconcile the rights of the press and those of the plaintiff. But he added that “the court could have gone farther” in protecting Shield Law rights. “In a case where the judge has concluded that the identification of the source is of such limited value, she should have allowed the Post to put on its case in full, including statements about the source, subject to cross examination,” said Abrams, a partner at Cahill Gordon & Reindel. Peter Jakab of Fein & Jakab and the firm of Cochran, Neufeld & Scheck are representing Bement. Slade R. Metcalf of Squadron Ellenoff Plesent & Sheinfeld is representing the Post.

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