Winter/Spring 2014

Prior Restraint Vacated in Lawsuit by Haiti's Prime Minister

Holland & Knight Newsletter
Scott D. Ponce

A federal district judge in Miami vacated a prior restraint forbidding a U.S.-based Haitian journalist from ever publishing anything relating to the prime minister of Haiti. Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe sued Leo Joseph for defamation, alleging that Joseph published defamatory articles in his newspaper, Haiti-Observateur. According to their complaint, the articles falsely reported that Lamothe and another man improperly benefitted from the sale of a Haitian telecommunications company.

The plaintiffs secured a default final judgment that, as a remedy for the alleged defamation, "permanently" enjoined Joseph "from publishing future communications to any third-parties concerning or regarding the Plaintiffs in either their professional, personal or political lives." Once they accepted the defense, pro bono, Joseph's lawyers immediately filed a motion to set aside the judgment, arguing that (1) it was unconstitutional; (2) the plaintiffs failed to plead constitutional actual malice; and (3) there was insufficient service of process. The court agreed, setting aside the final judgment.

The court also dismissed the complaint and gave the plaintiffs 10 days to refile. The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint, which Joseph persuaded the court to also dismiss, leading the plaintiffs to file a second amended complaint.

After extensive discovery, including obtaining two orders compelling the prime minister to appear for deposition — he had abruptly walked out of one deposition — the defense filed a motion for summary judgment. When faced with the motion, the prime minister and the other plaintiff agreed to dismiss their claims in return for Joseph publishing a declaration from a witness who had changed his story twice during the litigation. Scott Ponce of Holland & Knight represented journalist Leo Joseph, pro bono, in this matter.

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