CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands A jury yesterday found a newspaper and its reporter knowingly made false statements about a judge and ordered them to pay him $240,000 in damages.
An attorney for The Virgin Islands Daily News said he would appeal the verdict that the paper defamed the judge with malice.
“We fully expect that our reporting on the actions and decisions of public officials ... will be supported and the free expression of ideas will be fully vindicated,” attorney Kevin Rames said.
Then-Judge Leon Kendall filed the lawsuit in October 2007, alleging the newspaper and two of its reporters libeled him in at least 16 articles and one editorial. The jury convicted only one of the reporters and the newspaper.
Kendall’s attorney, Howard Cooper, praised the jury’s decision.
“Actual malice represents the highest and most difficult civil legal burden to satisfy,” he said. “It’s very rare for a public official defamation case to make it to trial, let alone prevail.”
The articles looked at how Kendall released several suspects with criminal backgrounds who were later convicted of other crimes.
Kendall, who retired in October, said he sued after he felt one of the stories went too far in its criticism and did not properly reflect his perspective. The story was about a domestic-violence suspect who was found guilty of killing a 12-year-old girl shortly after Kendall released him.
At the time, crime victims’ advocates held a protest criticizing the judge for freeing the suspect.
Kendall said he did not sue a protester quoted in the story because he expected to be criticized where appropriate.
“What I did not expect, nor should any judge, was to be maligned in the media for doing my job,” he said in his testimony during the trial.
Before filing the lawsuit, Kendall was already being attacked by critics who accused him of being too lenient. He also had objected to a review of his rulings by a now-defunct panel that had the power to remove judges.