After Tuesday’s decision by a Hudson County Superior Court judge to dismiss a defamation case filed against two Hoboken-based bloggers, a Seton Hall law professor outlined for PolitickerNJ what it takes to make a defamation claim stick in New Jersey’s rough-and-tumble political atmosphere.
“There is a certain amount of protection for defamatory statements about public officials or public figures,” said Thomas Healy, a professor of law at Seton Hall School of Law who focuses on the First Amendment. “In order for that person to successfully sue you, they have to show that you knew that the statements were false, or that you acted with reckless disregard as to whether or not they were false.”
The trial, which began last week, was rooted in a lawsuit filed by Lane Bajardi and his wife Kimberly Cardinal Bajardi, 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.
The attorney for the Bajardis said they planned to appeal Judge Patrick J. Arre’s ruling in favor of Pincus and Brice.
Healy stuck to the aforementioned tenets of what defines defamation when looking at the judge’s ruling.
“I don’t know which of the various aspects of the claim the judge thought had not been met. It could have been any of them,” Healy said. “But that’s basically what you need in order to make a defamation suit work.”