Online Booksellers Dismissed from Obama Libel Case

By Andrew Kreig / Project Director's Blog

Online booksellers are not liable for potentially defamatory comments posted on websites and created by others, a Washington federal judge ruled March 31 in dismissing civil charges involving a controversial book about President Obama. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, right, dismissed civil charges pre-trial as a matter of law regarding the self-published book, Barack Obama & Larry Sinclair.

Sinclair, the book’s author, wrote the Justice Integrity Project with this comment:“I believe Judge Leon made the proper ruling in regards to the Motions for Summary Judgment by Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com and the Motion to Dismiss by Books-A-Millions. I am still awaiting a decision on my motion to dismiss, as well as the Rense motion to dismiss.”

Dan Parisi, a minor figure in the book, and three firms he controls sued Sinclair, Jeff Rense (author of a preface to the book) and three online distributors: Books-A-Million, Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com. Plaintiffs claimed $30 million in damages because Sinclair described Parisi’s website Whitehouse.com as a porn site, supposedly hindering Parisi’s ability to sell the site for that amount. During a Feb. 28 hearing, the judge expressed skepticism about the potential size of any damages and other elements of the plaintiffs' case.  But he accepted the claim as potentially valid for purposes of the pretrial motion. Another pretrial judicial order has largely blocked the sale of Sinclair’s book, in which he provided context for his 2008 claim that he shared sex and drugs with then Illinois State Sen. Obama on two occasions a decade ago.

 

The powerhouse lobbying firm Patton Boggs filed Parisi's suit. Neither Parisi nor his attorney responded to a request for comment on their courtroom setback. Obama partisans have no publicly known involvement in the case aside from their expressing suspicion before the suit that Sinclair had a political motive for his claims, which he denies. The judge has a Republican background.

The distributor defendants argued earlier this year that the court should remove them from liability as a matter of law and to uphold the precedent that authors and publishers are primarily responsible for content, not distributors.  Holding otherwise would disrupt the publishing industry, the distributors said.

Our project covered the Feb. 28  hearing leading to this week’s decision in a column entitled, “Libel Suit Hearing In DC Explores Political Free Press Issues.”

Below are significant articles on legal reform and related political, security and media factors. The articles contain a sample of news. See the full article by visiting News Reports, finding the date and clicking the link.

Featured Story

BLT -- Blog of the Legal Times, Online Booksellers Immune in $30M Lawsuit Filed Over Obama Book, April 1, 2011. Online booksellers cannot be held liable for defamatory content on their Web sites if it's created by an outside party, a Washington federal court judge ruled yesterday (PDF). The suit stems from a 2009 book self-published by Larry Sinclair, who claimed he and President Barack Obama had used drugs and engaged in sexual acts together in 1999; court records listed a P.O. Box address in Tennessee For Sinclair, but filings also place him at a Florida residence. The book publishing service sold copies of Sinclair's book through booksellers Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com and Books-A-Million; the publishing company also sent promotional materials to be posted with the listing for the book.

Lawyer Fees/Investment Losses

Washington Post, Cleanup of Madoff mess has its own mounting cost, More oversight urged as lawyers’, others’ fees are expected to top $1 billion, David S. Hilzenrath, April 1, 2011. Madoff’s Ponzi scheme cost many investors their life’s savings, but for the lawyers, accountants and consultants hired to clean it up, it has unleashed a gusher of cash. The tab through the end of last year came to $288 million, and it is expected to grow by $1.1 billion in the coming years, according to a tally recently submitted to Congress. The money is coming from a small, government-sponsored nonprofit organization called the Securities Investor Protection Corp. (SIPC), which manages the liquidation of failed brokerage firms in much the same way the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. backstops failed banks. But a federal watchdog warned Thursday that neither the courts nor officials at the Securities and Exchange Commission effectively oversee the fees and expenses paid to outside contractors and urged regulators to watch more closely to make sure the payments are appropriate.

Domestic Prosecutions

Wall Street Journal, Kerik’s Prison Sentence Upheld on Appeal, Aaron Rutkoff, March 31, 2011. A federal appeals court upheld the four-year prison sentence given to Bernard Kerik, the former New York Police Department commissioner who served under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The court ruling on Thursday considered the fairness of Kerik’s treatment by the judge who sentenced him to a prison term longer than the 33-month maximum established under federal sentencing guidelines. Kerik’s lawyers had argued that four-year sentence by Judge Stephen C. Robinson had been unreasonable and showed judicial bias. The three-judge appeals panel found no basis for decreasing the sentence. “In sum, we conclude that an objective observer viewing the whole record would not question the district court’s impartiality and, accordingly, we identify no ground for resentencing,” the judges wrote in the ruling.

Nominations

Legal Schnauzer, Obama Proposes a Wretched Nominee for Controversial U.S. Attorney Post, Roger Shuler, April 1, 2011. Just when you think the Obama administration's performance on justice issues in Alabama can't get any worse . . . it does.  Now we know why Obama waited more than two years to nominate a replacement for Bush appointee Leura Canary in the Middle District of Alabama. He apparently planned to nominate someone who is almost as bad as she is . . . so, why rush it?  George Beck, from the Montgomery firm of Capell and Howard, is the administration's choice, according to a press release issued yesterday. Sources tell Legal Schnauzer that the White House would have needed to strive awfully hard to come up with a worse choice than Beck. The Alabama Democratic Party issued a statement supporting the nomination, which speaks volumes about why Democrats can't win a statewide race in "The Heart of Dixie" to save their souls.

Executive Power / Secrecy

Salon / Unclaimed Territory, Obama's new view of his own war powers, Glenn Greenwald, March 31, 2011. Back in January, 2006, the Bush Justice Department released a 42-page memo arguing that the President had the power to ignore Congressional restrictions on domestic eavesdropping, such as those imposed by FISA (the 30-year-old law that made it a felony to do exactly what Bush got caught doing:  eavesdropping on the communications of Americans without warrants).  That occurred roughly 3 months after I began blogging, and -- to my embarrassment now -- I was actually shocked by the brazen radicalism and extremism expressed in that Memo.  It literally argued that Congress had no power to constrain the President in any way when it came to national security matters and protecting the nation.

Government Advocates Meet with POTUS: A Firsthand Account, Danielle Brian, March 29, Updated March 31, 2011. Yesterday afternoon, POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian—along with OMB Watch Executive Director Gary Bass, OpenTheGovernment.org Director Patrice McDermott, National Security Archive Executive Director Tom Blanton, and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Executive Director Lucy Dalglish — met with President Obama about open government issues. The meeting was originally scheduled to occur during Sunshine Week, but was postponed. Here’s Danielle’s account of the meeting

Washington Post, Where’s the openness, Mr. President? Charles Ornstein and Hagit Limor, March 31, 2011. The day after his inauguration, President Obama promised a new era of “openness in government.” But the reality has not matched the president’s rhetoric. We, presidents of two of the nation’s largest journalism organizations, and many of our thousands of members, have found little openness since Obama took office. If anything, the administration has gone in the opposite direction: imposing restrictions on reporters’ newsgathering that exceed even the constraints put in place by President George W. Bush.

Politico, Not a secret anymore: Shh! Obama gets anti-secrecy award, Abby Phillip, March 30, 2011. President Obama finally and quietly accepted his “transparency” award from the open government community this week — in a closed, undisclosed meeting at the White House on Monday. The secret presentation happened almost two weeks after the White House inexplicably postponed the ceremony, which was expected to be open to the press pool. This time, Obama met quietly in the Oval Office with Gary Bass of OMB Watch, Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive, Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight, Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Patrice McDermott of OpenTheGovernment.org, without disclosing the meeting on his public schedule or letting photographers or print reporters into the room.  “I don’t feel moved today to say ‘thank you, Mr. President,’” said Steve Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. But he said he understands the award to be “aspirational,” in recognition of Obama’s potential to do more on the transparency front. “And in that sense, one could say it resembles the award at the Nobel Peace Prize,” Aftergood said. “It’s not because Obama brought peace to anyone but because people hoped he would be a force for good in the world, and maybe that’s the way to understand this award.”

Legal Schnauzer, "Casino Jack" Hits Close to Home In A State Tarnished By Abramoff's Sleaze, Roger Shuler, March 30, 2011.  Thankfully, a new movie shines considerable light on how former Gov. Bob Riley and his GOP cronies turned Montgomery, Alabama, into a sleaze pit. Casino Jack, starring Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, was released in late December and now is playing in select cities. The film should be of special interest here in Alabama, given Riley's documented ties to Abramoff and his fellow felon, Michael Scanlon. According to early reviews, the film portrays Scanlon as perhaps even more despicable than Abramoff. The mainstream press, curiously, seems to rarely mention that Scanlon used to work for Bob Riley.

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