Gizmodo Media Group LLC and journalist Katherine Krueger have replied to a $100 million federal defamation lawsuit brought by former Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller over an article Miller claimed ruined his life.
In a reply memorandum, the defendants branded the lawsuit “frivolous” and stood by what they called a fair and accurate story, which ran on Splinter on Sept. 21.
Kreuger’s story detailed claims made against Miller by ex-girlfriend and former Trump aide Arlene “A.J.” Delgado, and quoted from a Miami-Dade family court document. In it, Delgado accused Miller of impregnating “Jane Doe” — a woman he’d met at an Orlando strip club — then later slipping an abortion pill into her smoothie. Delgado also claimed Miller had physically abused another woman.
The story “spread like a virus,” costing Miller his job at CNN and branding him a “murderer,” according to the lawsuit, which also claimed that Doe had ”verified under oath that these events never happened.”
The defense moved to dismiss the case on Dec. 6. Miller responded with claims that Gizmodo and Krueger had breached the boundaries of the First Amendment, as “the public had no right to see” what was in the court filing.
In its reply, Gizmodo stressed that the article was based on a publicly filed document that was never sealed. Miller filed a motion to seal on Sept. 17, 2018, which essentially locked the document away from public view in the meantime. But that, Gizmodo argued, isn’t the same as having it sealed.
Read Gizmodo’s reply:
‘Slim to None’
Clay Calvert, media law professor at the University of Florida and director of its Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project, suspects the case will eventually be dismissed due to a longstanding fair and accurate reporting privilege for journalists.
“The odds of this case actually reaching a jury are slim to none,” Calvert said. “That privilege allows journalists to fairly and accurately report allegations from public documents, as long as they attribute those allegations to those documents.”
According to Calvert, it’s not unusual for plaintiffs in defamation suits to attach sky-high prices to defamation suits — often in the hope that it will drive a settlement or increase the likelihood of a jury awarding, say, a few million less.
Lead attorneys for Gizmodo are Katherine Bolger and Elizabeth McNamara of Davis Wright Tremaine in New York. Gizmodo’s local attorneys — Deanna K. Shullman, Rachel Fugate and Giselle M. Girones of Shullman Fugate in West Palm Beach — referred comment to their client.
“We’re being wrongfully sued for filing a truthful news report about a public document,” a spokesperson for Gizmodo said in a statement.
Shullman and Fugate have also represented American Media Inc., publisher of the National Enquirer, in defending its reporting on a motion filed by Casey Anthony, a Florida woman accused of murdering her daughter.
Gizmodo began as a daughter company to Gawker Media, destroyed by a $31 million settlement over its publication of a sex tape featuring Terry Bollea, the wrestler known as Hulk Hogan.
Miller has recruited two members of Bollea’s legal team to represent him — Tampa lawyers Kenneth G. Turkel and Shane B. Vogt of Bajo, Cuva, Cohen & Turkel. Neither responded to requests for comment before deadline.
Could Gizmodo meet the same fate as Gawker?
It’s probably not a coincidence that Miller enlisted Turkel and Vogt, according to media lawyer James J. McGuire of Thomas & LoCicero’s Tampa office, who defends newspapers, television stations and other content providers in defamation and invasion of privacy cases.
“Because of the Gawker case, many defendants and publishers certainly have a concern that maybe some floodgate has been opened in Florida,” McGuire said.
That said, McGuire struggled to envision a win in this case.
“If the documents had been confidential, maybe there would have been a problem reporting on them,” McGuire said. “But (Miller) is living in sort of a make-believe world there because those things didn’t happen. The record was open to the public.”
Defamation lawsuits have become more commonplace, according to McGuire, who said that plaintiffs used to be more hesitant to bring claims— worried that a deep dive investigation into their background and reputation might do more harm than good.
“Defamation plaintiffs are coming out of the woodwork in a way that they didn’t used to,” McGuire said. “Maybe it’s people’s willingness to be out on social media and reveal more about themselves, but a lot of plaintiffs seem less interested in their own privacy.”