Politics

Billionaire Senate candidate sues newspapers after losing election

Chris Moody Contributor

Former Florida Senate candidate and Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene is suing The Miami Herald and The St. Petersburg Times for libel, claiming the newspapers knowingly ran stories about him that were untrue with intent to ruin his candidacy.

The 55-page complaint, filed in Miami-Dade County Wednesday, argues that the papers published untrue stories about Greene’s former business dealings and about his relationship with boxer Mike Tyson. Greene has hired prominent Atlanta-based attorney L. Lin Wood, who has represented a number of high profile clients, including former Congressman Gary Condit, who was charged with the death of a congressional intern and later exonerated.

Greene lost to four-term Florida Rep. Kendrick Meek in last month’s Democratic primary for Senate.

It is not common for politicians to take up defamation suits against the media in the United States. The plaintiff must prove that the media outlet not only intentionally published something untrue, but also acted maliciously. Wood told The Daily Caller that he knows that the “bar is higher” in cases like these, but said he was confident this case is different.

“It appears clear that the newspapers had actual knowledge of the business transaction and disregarded that knowledge to publish a false description of the business transaction,” Wood said, referring to a story published in both newspapers that reported that Greene had been involved with a real estate deal that left hundreds without a home.

He added that if newspapers think they can use the First Amendment as a shield for publishing something untrue, they have another thing coming. The suit is claiming $500 million in damages.

“The First Amendment is not a credit card with no limits,” Wood said. “It doesn’t extend carte blanche authority to the media to accuse someone falsely of being a criminal or being linked to criminal activity.”

Gene Policinski, vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center, said that Greene’s case would have to meet some very high standards to be considered in a court of law.

“It’s an extremely high bar for a politician to successfully sue a news operation. They really have to prove malice or reckless disregard in the extreme,” Policinski told TheDC, adding that he had not yet examined the specific case. “It’s certainly not impossible, but I would say in modern times it is extremely difficult for political figures to successfully carry out such a lawsuit.”

The editor of The St. Petersburg Times has said that he stands by his newspaper’s work.

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