Judge says US-based reporter defamed Haiti's PM
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 8:41 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 8:41 a.m.
MIAMI — A Haitian-American journalist defamed Haiti's prime minister in reporting on the sale of a telecommunications company acquired by the Caribbean country's government, a federal judge in Florida has ruled.
Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and South Florida businessman Patrice Baker sued Leo Joseph in Miami federal court in September over his reporting for the New York-based Haiti-Observateur.
U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro said in a Feb. 6 ruling that she agreed with Lamothe and Baker that Joseph had published false and malicious reports about Lamothe's role in the sale of Haitel.
Ungaro also prohibited Joseph from ever again writing about Lamothe or Baker in their professional, personal or political lives.
Joseph's reporting is "replete with statements that are outrageous, scandalous and reminiscent of a tabloid publication," Ungaro wrote.
Lamothe and Baker had asked Ungaro for a default judgment after the clerk of court found Joseph in default on Jan. 16 for failing to enter a plea or otherwise respond to the lawsuit.
Joseph said early Tuesday that he had not been notified about Ungaro's ruling or about the ruling finding him in default.
"The problem is, they have never served me properly," he said. "Their argument is that I'm lying against them and what I said is not true, which is contrary to the fact."
Joseph stood by his reporting.
Haitel shut down last year after it couldn't pay its debts. It was then acquired by Haiti's government.
Lamothe, a former telecommunications executive, took office in May, filling a nearly three-month vacancy after President Michel Martelly's first prime minister resigned after just four months on the job.
The lawsuit originally included Haiti-Observateur as a defendant, but the newspaper was dropped from the case last month.
Ungaro ruled that Joseph's reporting in August and early September intentionally spread false and defamatory statements about Lamothe's and Baker's roles in Haitel's sale.
These statements, which included reporting that Lamothe and Baker orchestrated and benefitted from Haitel's sale, "are entirely false and conjured to destroy the reputations of Baker and Lamothe," Ungaro wrote.
The damage done to Lamothe's and Baker's reputations "represents an immediate and irreparable injury for which there is no adequate remedy at law" and far outweighs the potential harm Joseph might suffer if permanently restrained from writing about either man again, Ungaro wrote.
Haiti-Observateur has been publishing since 1971 and serves Haiti's large diaspora communities in New York, Florida, Montreal and the Caribbean. On its website, the paper says it has a weekly circulation of 75,000.