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Judge’s ruling in Melania Trump libel suit leaves Maryland blogger standing alone

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 3/02/2017 Dan Morse
First lady Melania Trump and President Donald Trump at the Jan. 20 inaugural parade. © Evan Vucci/AP First lady Melania Trump and President Donald Trump at the Jan. 20 inaugural parade.

A Maryland judge dismissed first lady Melania Trump’s defamation claims against an online tabloid, ruling that Trump should not have filed the matter in the Washington suburb of Montgomery County, according to court records filed Thursday.

The ruling won’t necessarily end the litigation against the online Daily Mail. Trump’s attorneys said late Thursday they will refile the claims in New York City.

Their claims relate to an article in August about unsubstantiated rumors that Trump once worked as an escort. The article was later retracted.

The ruling also does not appear to affect proceedings against Webster Tarpley, a blogger in Maryland who published a similar article around the same time. Trump also has sued Tarpley, and her attorneys said Thursday that they intend to move ahead on the claims against him.

One result of the judge’s ruling, as it relates to Montgomery County, is that it raises the possibility of a trial in Rockville — about 20 miles north of the White House — involving the first lady and a 71-year-old blogger who works out of his townhouse in Gaithersburg.

Attorneys for Tarpley could not immediately be reached for comment on the ruling.

Trump appeared at a hearing in the case after her defamation litigation was filed Sept. 1 in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

The legal venue meant Tarpley was being sued in the county where he lives.

Bringing the online Daily Mail into the same legal venue was more of a reach given the complicated web of corporations and publishing networks in the creation and publication of the online Daily Mail article.

Trump’s legal team argued that while the article was put together by the Daily Mail tabloid operation in London, it was published on the Daily Mail website, which according to Trump’s attorneys in court filings, is based in New York.

They argued that because the online site has many readers in Maryland, the online Daily Mail transacts business in the state.

Given all of those factors, Trump’s attorneys said, it made sense to sue both Tarpley and the online Daily Mail in Maryland in a single proceeding that also would save courtroom time by consolidating the complaints.

In her 14-page opinion this week, Circuit Judge Sharon Burrell said no to that argument. “It would be unreasonable as a matter of constitutional due process for this court to exert jurisdiction” over the online Daily Mail, Burrell wrote.

The judge described how the Daily Mail article was put together, and that it had nothing to do with Maryland: “In the case at hand, the article was written about a New York resident by a newspaper in the United Kingdom, and also published on a general news website that cannot be described as having a Maryland focus. . . . No reporter or editor traveled to Maryland in the course of reporting, editing or publishing the article.”

Burrell also said the claims could not be refiled elsewhere in Maryland, court records show.

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