Melania Trump has emerged victorious from the first round of the libel suit she filed against a blogger for saying she used to work as a “high-end escort.” The blogger is being sued for $150 million.
Judge Sharon Burrell of the Montgomery County Circuit Court refused to accept arguments presented by the blogger's' lawyers, who attempted to dismiss the lawsuit on grounds that it did not satisfactorily demonstrate “actual malice.” The blogger, named Webster Tarpley, also tried to get the case dismissed by way of a Maryland law that was written to dismiss bad-faith intimidation suits.
“The court finds the plaintiff has stated a claim for defamation,” said Burrell. “The court believes most people, when they hear the words 'high-end escort,' that describes a prostitute. There could be no more defamatory statement than to call a woman a prostitute.”
Burrell went on to claim that Tarpley's legal team was playing “word games” by trying to argue that his claims weren't libelous. Tarpley also claims that Melania had a mental breakdown that took her off the campaign trail.
The hearing was a clear loss for Tarpley, but was ambiguous when it came to Melania's suit against an American corporate affiliate of the Daily Mail newspaper, who published an article about Melania in August that echoed Tarpley's claims.
Kelli Sager, one of Mail Media's lawyers, said that Maryland was an inappropriate place to conduct a lawsuit by a New York resident against a New-York-based company like Mail Media. According to Sager, Melania is also suing the Daily Mail's parent company in a London court over the same article.
When Melania caught wind of the two articles, her lawyers forwarded complaints to Tarpley and Mail Media. Both of them removed the offending articles from their respective sites.
Judge Burrell has halted discovery against Mail Media, which some interpret as a sign that she'll exonerate them completely.
According to Burrell, Tarpley's attempt to dodge the suit under Maryland's Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation law (SLAPP) was unsuccessful due to lack of evidence that the suit was filed in bad faith. She may have also denied Tarpley on the grounds that Melania isn't a high-profile enough individual to qualify Tarpley for SLAPP protection.
“The interests affected are arguably not that important because the plaintiff wasn't the one running for office,” commented Burrell.
Rumors abound about both Donald and Melania. Sometimes it's difficult to tell what's substantiated and what is not. But the suit is a clear warning shot to journalists: tread lightly.