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Manhattan judge tosses defamation lawsuit against Donald Trump

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 11/01/2017 BARBARA ROSS
A New York judge on Tuesday dismissed TV commentator Cheryl Jacobus' suit against President-elect Donald Trump, ruling that his tweets saying she'd 'begged' him for a job did not amount to libel. - Alec Tabak/for New York Daily News © Provided by New York Daily News A New York judge on Tuesday dismissed TV commentator Cheryl Jacobus' suit against President-elect Donald Trump, ruling that his tweets saying she'd 'begged' him for a job did not amount to libel. - Alec Tabak/for New York Daily News

Donald Trump's Twitter assaults on a television commentator during the presidential campaign don't qualify as defamatory even though they were "clearly intended to belittle and demean" her, a New York judge ruled Tuesday as she tossed a lawsuit against the President-elect.

The lawsuit was brought by Cheryl Jacobus, a Republican commentator whom Trump branded on Twitter as "a real dummy."

She sued Trump and his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, contending that they raised questions about her professional ethics by suggesting that she only criticized Trump on TV after his campaign turned her down for a job early in 2015.

Jacobus said that she decided not to take a job on team Trump after tangling with Lewandowski. Trump and Lewandowski contend that they rejected her.

The name calling started last February when Jacobus, on CNN, said that Trump had a super PAC that was illegally tied to the campaign and that the campaign had lied about its existence and shut it down.

Trump jumped on Twitter calling Jacobus "a loser" and saying she had attacked him because his campaign refused to give her a job after she "begged" for one. Lewandowski echoed that comment.

Jacobus sued them both for defamation, saying they lied about the job interview process, impugned her professional integrity and cost her money because she was frozen out of any commentary gigs on TV for the rest of the campaign.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe said "professional misconduct, incompetence or a lack of integrity may not be reasonably inferred from being turned down for a job" and Trump's speech falls into the category of "hyperbolic" comment in the heat of a political campaign.

"The defensive tone of the tweet, having followed plaintiff's negative commentary about Trump, signals to readers that plaintiff and Trump were engaged in a petty quarrel. Lewandowski's comments, overall, are speculative and vague" and their suggestion that she attacked Trump in retaliation for not getting the job was "speculation and opinion," the judge said.

New York courts have upheld the right of people to express opinions on the Internet, Jaffe said.

The judge further noted that Trump's extensive use of Twitter "to circulate his positions and skewer his opponents" and critics restricted him to 140-character messages, meaning his Tweets were "rife with vague and simplistic insults such as "loser," "dummy," "wacko" and "disaster" — "all deflecting serious consideration."

Jaffe said Trump used Twitter so extensively that it raised "some concern that some may avoid liability by conveying positions in small Twitter parcels."

However, she concluded, "a reasonable reader would recognize (Trump and Lewandowski's statements) as opinion" and a defamatory reading is not "reasonable under these circumstances."

"Indeed, to some, truth itself has been lost in the cacophony of online and Twitter verbiage to such a degree that it seems to roll off the national consciousness like water off a duck's back," the judge wrote.

Jacobus' lawyer Jay Butterworth said his client will appeal.

"It's a sad day for free speech, for freedom of the press and for democracy to give Donald Trump the right to trample on the rights of any critic," the attorney said. "The decision makes Trump and his minions free to savage and harass anyone who speaks out against them unless an appellate court overturns" the decision.

Butterworth said the judge "reversed the law" by determining that a reasonable person would consider the Twitter attacks as mere opinion.

"Her role was to find if a reasonable person could find (Trump and Lewandowski's statements) defamatory" and if so, she had to put the case before a jury, he said.

Trump's lawyer, Lawrence Rosen, said the judge's “very well reasoned” decision agreed with his side's contention that “the statements at issue were statements of opinion, not fact” and the context of where the statements were made “doesn't change the analysis.”

“The words may have been offensive to Ms. Jacobus, but that's not the law” regulating defamation, Rosen said.

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