A federal judge on Monday tossed out Sarah Palin’s libel case against the New York Times – while the jury was still deliberating.
The lawsuit centered around a New York Times op-ed that falsely implicated Palin’s political action committee (PAC) for “political incitement” in the shooting of former Rep. Gabby Giffords.
In June 2017, the same day that a leftist shot Rep. Steve Scalise during a congressional baseball practice, the Times ran an op-ed headlined “America’s Lethal Politics.” The piece falsely claimed that Palin’s PAC had shared a map with 20 Democratic lawmakers, including Giffords, in “stylized crosshairs” prior to her shooting. They claimed that “the link to political incitement was clear.”
Palin says that former editorial page editor James Bennet defamed her by publishing the claim.
U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff, a Clinton appointee tossed out the case and said Palin’s lawyers did not present sufficient evidence against the New York Times.
The judge said jurors received push notifications on their phones about his plan to dismiss the lawsuit – while they were deliberating.
Jurors in former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s libel trial against The New York Times became aware during deliberations that the judge overseeing the case had ruled that it should be thrown out, the judge disclosed in an order on Wednesday.
U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff said that after the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of the Times in the case on Tuesday, one of his law clerks learned that some on the panel had received alerts on their phones on Monday when Rakoff announced, outside the presence of the jury, that he planned to toss out the case because Palin’s lawyers had failed to prove their case to the high standard of evidence required in libel suits against public figures.
“These jurors reported that although they had been assiduously adhering to the Court’s instruction to avoid media coverage of the trial, they had involuntarily received ‘push notifications’ on their smartphones that contained the bottom-line of the ruling,” the Manhattan-based Rakoff wrote in a two-page order.
While rulings by judges to throw out a case at the close of a civil or criminal jury trial are not uncommon, many legal experts faulted Rakoff for revealing his plan in the middle of the jury’s deliberations. Doing so raised the prospect that jurors would learn of his decision and that it might prompt them to side with the Times regardless of their view of the evidence.
The judge said the jurors were not swayed by his decision to dismiss the case.
“The jurors repeatedly assured the Court’s law clerk that these notifications had not affected them in any way or played any role whatever in their deliberations,” the judge wrote in an order on Wednesday.
“Jurors’ having knowledge of the ruling in the middle of deliberations could bolster the ex-governor’s case for a new trial or appeal.” – Politico’s legal reporter Josh Gerstein wrote.
NEW: While jury in Sarah Palin v. NY Times libel case was deliberating this week, jurors got ‘push notifications’ about judge’s plan to toss out suit. Could be fodder for new trial or appeal. https://t.co/2EuObhTXVI
— Josh Gerstein (@joshgerstein) February 16, 2022