A federal judge has denied an appeal by Republican Party megadonor Sheldon Adelson which sought to overturn a prior decision ordering the billionaire casino magnate to pay damages for a frivolous and vexatious defamation lawsuit.
In July 2012, the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) filed for online petition calling on then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney to disavow and refuse Adelson’s support in his failed campaign to unseat then-president Barack Obama. The basis for the NJDC’s request was a report by the Associated Press which cited a lawsuit filed by a former manager of Adelson’s casino in the special administrative region of Macau, China.
That lawsuit, filed in Nevada, claimed that Adelson was aware of and encouraged full service sex work at the casino in question.
The NJDC linked to that article on their petition–which called Adelson’s money “dirty” and alleged that he was “putting ‘foreign money’ from China in our elections.”
Romney, of course, did not rise to the occasion.
A separate media campaign against Adelson by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) featured a website that attempted to ricochet those charges against GOP leaders in Congress, asking: “What will Speaker Boehner, Leader Cantor and House Republicans do with their Chinese prostitution money?”
“It’s past time for House Republicans to reject the support of these groups funded by foreign money from a Chinese prostitution strategy.” then-DCCC spokesperson Jesse Ferguson later added.
The DCCC, as is their wont, quickly apologized.
The NJDC, however, was not deterred and fought back against Adelson after he filed a defamation lawsuit in August 2012.
“We don’t believe we engaged in character assassination,” said NJDC President David Harris and Chairman Marc Stanley in a statement announcing they would remove the petition–but doggedly refused to apologize. “We stand by everything we said, which was sourced from current, credible news accounts.”
Adelson’s defamation lawsuit ultimately went nowhere–but it took quite awhile to get there.
A Manhattan federal court dismissed the suit in 2013–citing the fair report privilege against defamation claims. The lawsuit was then resuscitated but only on the billionaire’s deep-pocketed life support. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals referred a series of questions to the Nevada Supreme Court–which also dismissed the lawsuit. Those questions answered, the Second Circuit finally tossed the entirety of Adelson’s claims against the NJDC in November 2017.
Fresh off their first court victory, the NJDC sued Adelson back in September 2018.
“It is now beyond cavil that Sheldon Adelson deliberately abused the courts to try — in his words — to bankrupt the National Jewish Democratic Council for having the temerity to criticize him,” the suit claimed, accusing the right-wing oligarch of waging a campaign of “legal sadism” against the Democratic group.
Adelson was ordered to pay damages to the NJDC in September 2019 by the Second Circuit based on an anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation (anti-SLAPP) law which prohibits legal efforts designed to chill free speech or wreck opponents financially.
The lawsuit against the NJDC, the court determined, had precisely that effect. The NJDC is essentially a shell of its former self–and currently does not engage in any electoral or advocacy work–due to the high costs of litigation incurred defending itself against Adelson’s frivolous defamation claims.
Adelson’s appeal was tossed in a four-page ruling by U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken:
[T]he Court in this case denied anti-SLAPP dismissal because Adelson failed to demonstrate that his defamation lawsuit was a protected good-faith communication. Although Plaintiffs in this case also failed to plead that the underlying conduct — Adelson’s defamation lawsuit — was brought with knowledge of falsity, the Court nonetheless concluded that Adelson, under Nevada law, bore the initial burden of production on the issue. Because Adelson produced no “evidence whatsoever . . . that the allegations in his initial lawsuit were truthful or brought without knowledge of their falsehood,” the Court denied protection under Nevada’s anti-SLAPP statute.
[image via Ethan Miller/Getty Images]
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