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Plaintiffs Sue Author for Publishing Defamatory Matter


This case involves the respondent D.R. and the appellants. The case is being heard in the Court of Appeals of New York. The action is for defamation as the plaintiff is a Justice of the Supreme Court in the Second Judicial District. He alleges that he was libeled in the book “Cruel and Unusual Justice” that was authored by the defendants. The defendants motioned for summary judgment in the case after extensive pretrial discovery. The motion was denied by Special Term. The Appellate Division affirmed this decision in a closely divided court. The defendants were granted leave to appeal to our court on a certified question.

Court Discussion

A New York Criminal Lawyer said the question before the court is whether the plaintiff has established the existence of material facts that are sufficient to create a triable issue for his libel cause of action.

The author of the book, J.N., is a well-known, controversial, investigative journalist. In 1972, the author focused his attention on the criminal justice system in the State of New York. He emphasizes the administration of the criminal justice system in New York City. During the fall of 1972 he published five articles in the Village Voice on the judicial conduct of the city. A New York Criminal Lawyer said one additional article titled “The Ten Worst Judges in New York” was published in New York magazine. These articles focused on how the judges in the New York City courts were chosen for political reasons and not on the merit of their qualifications for the position. Several judges were identified by name and were described as being corrupt or incompetent. The author cited several decisions made by these judges to support his criticism.

The respondent, J.R. was one of the four judges that were accused by the Joint Legislative Committee for the crime of handing down “wrist-slap” sentences in felony narcotics cases. During the time that the articles from the defendant were appearing, the New York Times issued an article stating that Judge Rinaldi had sentenced and organized crime figure that had been charged with bribing a police officer, with a fine of $250. A New York Drug Possession Lawyer said on the same day the Judge issued a sentence of imprisonment of up to five years to a 19 year old that allegedly robbed a drugstore.

In this case, the plaintiff alleges that the defendants maliciously published false, scandalous, and defamatory matter stating that the plaintiff was and is a corrupt, biased, and incompetent judge that should be removed from office. The plaintiff alleges that as a result of the book his name and reputation have been damaged and he has been held in public scorn, ridicule, and contempt. He seeks $5,000,000 in damages.

Court Decision

This case brings up a delicate and difficult dilemma and this court is committed to a strong and free press, especially in the area of political debate. In this particular matter, the plaintiff was already involved in a scandal that was making headlines prior to the book being published. It is found that the book did not inflict any more harm on the reputation of the judge.

The judge has failed to show triable issues of fact in the matter and for this reason the court will grant the motion for summary judgment in favor of the defendants and the case is dismissed.

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