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Judge dismisses libel suit filed against Times Publishing by Jeff Greene

Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene's libel suit against Times Publishing Co., publisher of the Tampa Bay Times, was dismissed by a judge on Monday.

Greene, who lost the 2010 Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, filed suit against the Times, then known as the St. Petersburg Times, and the Miami Herald.

He alleged that three articles written by Times reporters that also appeared in the Herald cost him the primary and defamed his reputation. But Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Valerie Manno-Schurr decided otherwise in Monday's ruling.

"The fact that the plaintiff may not like the way the article was written or how it was written does not automatically provide the basis for a libel suit," the judge wrote.

The judge also declared that Greene's 2010 campaign made him a public figure: "There is no doubt that Greene had injected himself, even if for a limited time, into the public arena as a candidate for public office (so) he is considered a public figure."

Attorney George Rahdert spoke on behalf of the Times Publishing Co.

"It's an appropriate dismissal of a lawsuit that should never have been filed," he said. "In America, we have a lot of latitude to talk about important public matters like a candidate for the U.S. Senate, and the press should be able to write about political events without fear of being sued."

Greene sued over an Aug. 8, 2010, article and Aug. 9 editorial about his role in the 2006 sale of La Mirage, a 300-unit condominium complex fashioned from old military housing in the Mojave Desert.

The deal involved inflated sales prices to straw buyers that cost banks and taxpayers millions, according to the Times. Greene's company sold the units to a man who was later indicted by a federal grand jury for fraud and money laundering in connection with La Mirage and other real estate transactions.

An Aug. 13 story in the Times detailed reports of partying on Greene's 145-foot yacht, the Summerwind.

Not only did Greene fail to "properly allege" that the Times was "reckless," according to the judge, but "the plaintiff is asking the Court to engage in a post election analysis and to award damages against the defendants for a lost election."

Greene's attorney, Atlanta lawyer L. Lin Wood, released this statement to the Times: "The order ignores established First Amendment law and either ignores or contradicts the facts. To validate the false accusations made by these newspapers against Jeff Greene, threatens not only the reputations of candidates for political office, but also places the reputation of every citizen of the State of Florida at risk. Rich or poor, or somewhere in between, every person's reputation is invaluable. We will appeal."

Judge dismisses libel suit filed against Times Publishing by Jeff Greene 04/23/12 [Last modified: Monday, April 23, 2012 10:56pm]
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