JERSEY CITY – The jury trial of two Hoboken-based bloggers accused of defamation ended on Tuesday after the presiding judge ruled in favor of a defense motion to dismiss the case, stating that the plaintiffs had failed to make a prima facie, or sufficient, case against the defendants.
“New Jersey has a particularly high regard for free speech,” said Hudson County Superior Court Judge Patrick J. Arre is his ruling, noting that the involvement of plaintiffs Lane Bajardi and his wife Kimberly Cardinal Bajardi in the “political factions” constantly fighting in Hoboken make them public figures, and therefore subject to a higher standard when it comes to defamation. “Political speech is subject to the highest possible public protection.
“The suit needs to sufficiently support the finding of actual malice or reputational injury,” Arre added. “Therefore, the plaintiffs’ complaint is dismissed.”
The trial, which began last week, was rooted in a lawsuit filed by the Bajardis, who are Hoboken residents, in July 2012 in Hudson County Superior Court seeking $2 million in damages. The Hoboken-based bloggers Nancy Pincus and Roman Brice are named as defendants, as well as 10 other unnamed individuals – listed in the court documents by their on-line screen names – for allegedly posting remarks in 2011 and 2012 that allegedly injured the careers and future employment of the Bajardis. Lane Bajardi is a WINS 1010 radio reporter.
Pincus and Brice blog under the names “Grafix Avenger” and the “Hoboken Horse,” respectively, both often focusing on Hoboken government and politics. Pincus and Brice both generally support Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, while Bajardi is an ally of Councilman Beth Mason, a vocal Zimmer opponent.
Among the accusations that the Bajardis assert Pincus made against them under the name of her “Grafix Avenger” blog is that Lane Bajardi is a political operative for Mason. Another allegation made on the Grafix Avenger blog inferred that Bajardi was somehow involved in stealing emails from Zimmer and was being investigated by the FBI, the Bajardis claim.
Brice issued a statement after Arre’s ruling in his favor that underscored the nasty undertone often found in Hoboken politics and highlighted by the trial.
“Councilwoman Beth Mason announced this SLAPP suit in the July 2012 City Council meeting, 15 days before it was filed on behalf of plaintiffs Lane Bajardi and Kim Cardinal Bajardi against me and more than a dozen Hoboken residents,” Brice wrote in a prepared statement. “This is their biggest political operation versus the people of Hoboken to date and utterly failed against the First Amendment and the New Jersey State Constitution where political speech holds the highest rung of protection.”
Mason’s reply was brief and to the point.
“This thing about me filing this suit is false,” Mason told PolitickerNJ. “And [Brice] knows it’s false.”
Jonathan Cohen, attorney for the Bajardis, said that his clients would be appealing the decision in the next several weeks.
“These are not the end of the proceedings,” Cohen said. “When we make the appeal, you’ll see why.”
Stephan Katzman, Pincus’ attorney, had a different take on the day’s events.
“The judge did what he had to do. He appropriately applied the law to the facts, and dismissed the case because there was insufficient proof to establish the elements of defamation,” Katzman, of Methfessel & Werbel in Edison, said. “The First Amendment rights as set forth in the New Jersey State Constitution are considered even broader than the federal rights.”