First Lady Melania Trump has won the first round in a $150 million lawsuit she filed against a blogger who called her a “high-end escort” and the British Daily Mail newspaper that repeated the false story.
Melania filed the suit in September in a Montgomery County, Maryland court alleging that Maryland-based author Webster G. Tarpley libeled her when he called her a prostitute. The Daily Mail was also named in the suit for repeating the slanderous accusation.
“These defendants made several statements about Mrs. Trump that are 100 percent false and tremendously damaging to her personal and professional reputation,” attorney Charles Harder said as he filed the suit last year.
Lawyers for Tarpley and The Daily Mail had asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed, but this week Judge Sharon Burrell rejected arguments to summarily dismiss the lawsuit for failing to meet the “actual malice” standard for libel against public figures, Politico reported.
Judge Burrell said that it seemed pretty clear that “high-end escort” can be construed to mean “prostitute,” and by that understanding there was enough to justify a charge of libel.
“The court believes most people, when they hear the words ‘high-end escort’ that describes a prostitute. There could be no more defamatory statement than to call a woman a prostitute,” Burrell wrote in her decision.
The judge did not make it clear, though, if the inclusion of the British Daily Mail was going to be sustained. Since the paper is a foreign corporation, it is still unclear if the Mail would be dismissed from the suit, and Burrell did not rule on that aspect of the case.
But for the claims by Tarpley’s attorney, Burrell was dismissive. She said Tarpley’s claim that the suit should be dismissed because it was brought in bad faith was clearly untrue (dismissing his SLAAP claim) and also proclaimed her skepticism that Tarpley’s disgusting accusations were of the sort that should be protected under First Amendment rules — most especially because Melania was just the wife of a candidate and not a candidate herself.
“The interests affected are arguably not that important because the plaintiff wasn’t the one running for office,” the judge said.
Burrell also didn’t buy Tarpley’s claim that his assertions were just “rhetorical hyperbole” meant to enliven his text. She called his court claims “word games” meant to absolve him of blame.
One claim made by Trump’s legal team was tossed out. Harder claimed that Tarpley’s accusations damaged Melania’s current and prospective business deals, but Judge Burrell said the claims were too vague. The judge did promise to revisit the claims if Melania’s lawyers could make them more specific.
Trump’s attorney is himself a bit of a celebrity, having helped former wrestler Hulk Hogan win his$140 million lawsuit against Gawker Media.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.