Sheldon Adelson’s libel lawsuit against a Democratic Jewish group has little chance of success because the casino billionaire is a public figure and the claims in question appeared in court documents, two media law experts told the Forward.
The $60 million lawsuit filed yesterday in federal court in New York accuses the National Jewish Democratic Council of defaming Adelson with accusations that he personally approved of prostitution at his Macao casino.
Experts noted that the NJDC is likely protected by the fact that Adelson is a public figure, and that the prostitution allegation came from another court case.
“I suspect that this lawsuit will die a quiet death,” said Robert D. Balin, co-chair of the media law practice at the law firm David Wright Tremaine and adjunct professor of publishing law at Columbia University Law School.
Balin and Charles Tobin, chair of the media practice group at the law firm Holland & Knight, based their analysis on a description of Adelson’s complaint by the Forward.
Adelson’s status as a public figure makes any defamation claim particularly difficult to prove, the expets said. Adelson would need to prove that the NJDC acted with “actual malice,” a high bar that Balin said would essentially mean that Adelson would need to show that the NJDC published the claim knowing it was false.
That aside, the NJDC also appears to be protected by the fact that the allegation the NJDC repeated came from court filings. In his suit, Adelson focused on the NJDC’s repetition of allegations that Adelson personally approved of prostitution in his casinos in Macao. In the July 3 article that Adelson cites in his suit, the NJDC put the phrase “personally approved” in quotes.
The original article is not available, as the NJDC removed it from its website, so it’s not clear how the NJDC cited the quoted phrase. But the phrase appears to come from a court filing in a lawsuit between Adleson’s firm and Steven Jacobs, a former Adelson employee.
According to both Balin and Tobin, nearly every jurisdiction protects those who repeat allegations made in court proceedings from libel suits.
“The National Jewish Democratic Council has an absolute right under New York law and the Constitution to repeat allegations that were made in a lawsuit and to comment on a public figure like Mr. Adelson,” Tobin said.
Tobin said that he expected the suit to be quickly dismissed. “This is all ordinary commentary on public affairs that is entitled to the highest levels of protection under both the federal constitution and New York law,” he said.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.