Monday, July 16, 2018

Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene, Tampa Bay Times settle libel suit

Note: This story was updated on May 19.

The Tampa Bay Times has settled a libel suit filed against the newspaper in 2010 by former U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene.

Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

"We have been in this legal standoff for nearly six years," Times editor Neil Brown said in a statement. "The settlement represents our insurance company's calculation of acceptable legal expenses. On the central dispute, the Times does not retract or correct our coverage, nor will we limit any future reporting."

Greene, a Palm Beach billionaire, had contended that three reports in 2010 — two news articles and a Times editorial — defamed his reputation before he lost the Democratic Senate primary to former U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek. He sought $500 million in damages.

Greene sued over an Aug. 8 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. An Aug. 13 story in the Times detailed reports of partying on Greene's 145-foot yacht, the Summerwind.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Valerie Manno-Schurr dismissed Greene's complaint in 2012, but a state appeals court reversed her decision two years later. Both sides had been preparing for a trial this spring when the settlement was reached.

The Miami Herald, which published two of the Times' articles, has also settled with Greene.

Update: On May 17, attorney L. Lin Wood reacted to this story with a statement on behalf of Jeff Greene. Here are excerpts:

"The statement of Neil Brown is false and misleading. The Tampa Bay Times is attempting to spin this settlement as a victory for the newspaper when, in fact, it was a well-deserved defeat for the Times and a victory for Mr. Greene.

"The amount of the settlement paid to Mr. Greene is confidential — the requirement that the amount be confidential and not be disclosed was a condition imposed by the Tampa Bay Times. Since learning of the Brown statement, Mr. Greene has demanded that the Tampa Bay Times now disclose the amount publicly. ... I can state unequivocally that the settlement amount bears no reasonable relationship to the amount of legal expenses that would have been incurred by the Tampa Bay Times if it had elected to have the case resolved by a jury trial, as opposed to a settlement.

"Extremely important to Mr. Greene in deciding to settle the case was the fact that the Settlement Agreement required the Tampa Bay Times to publish the following editor's note for the first article at issue:

"Editor's Note: This article should not be read inaccurately to accuse Mr. Greene of mortgage fraud. To the extent that there is ambiguity on this point, the Times regrets any confusion.

"Also extremely important to Mr. Greene was the fact that the Settlement Agreement required the Tampa Bay Times to publish the following editor's note for the second article at issue:

"Editor's Note: This article should not be read inaccurately to accuse Mr. Greene of using drugs on his yacht. To the extent that there is ambiguity on this point, the Times regrets any confusion.

"Mr. Greene did not file and pursue this litigation for the primary purpose of financial gain. ... Mr. Greene's primary goal was accomplished by the publication of the Editor's Notes for each article."

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