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Jurors in former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against The New York Times found out through smartphone push notifications that the judge had ruled the case should be thrown out before they were finished deliberating, paving the way for a possible appeal.
Following the unanimous verdict by the jury in favor of The New York Times on Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff stated that one of his law clerks had learned that some jurors had received alerts on their phones Monday about his ruling. The judge announced he would toss the suit because Palin’s attorneys had failed to prove their case.
“These jurors reported that although they had been assiduously adhering to the Court’s instruction to avoid media coverage of the trial, they had involuntarily received ‘push notifications’ on their smartphones that contained the bottom-line of the ruling,” Rakoff wrote in a two-page order issued Wednesday.
It is not uncommon for a judge to throw out a case following the verdict in a civil or criminal jury trial. What is unorthodox in this case is that the judge did so while the jury was still empaneled and deliberating the case. Doing so opens the door to an appeal by Sarah Palin. Even stranger was the fact that the jury wasn’t sequestered.
Imagine being a juror and getting a push alert on your phone informing you that the case you have been deliberating has been thrown out because no reasonable jury could have found it meritorious.
—and then heading back to deliberations.
— Adam Klasfeld (@KlasfeldReports) February 14, 2022
“The jurors repeatedly assured the Court’s law clerk that these notifications had not affected them in any way or played any role whatever in their deliberations,” wrote the judge. Rakoff is an appointee of President Bill Clinton and joined the court in 1995.
UPDATE: In new filing, U.S. Judge Rakoff says "several" jurors said they had "involuntarily" received smartphone alerts informing them judge had already decided to dismiss case before verdict. They said did not affect outcome. https://t.co/dewCX7UnTa
— David Folkenflik (@davidfolkenflik) February 16, 2022
“I’m disappointed that the jurors even got these messages, if they did,” the judge remarked, according to Bloomberg News. “I continue to think it was the right way to handle things.
The judge asserted that “at most three” of the nine jurors saw the news alerts concerning his ruling. It is highly unusual for a federal judge to conduct interviews about cases that are pending or when appeals are expected and one is definitely on the table for the Palin case.
(Video Credit: NBC News)
“Rakoff said that because the decision is likely to be appealed — a path that could upend long-standing legal protections for journalists who write about public figures — he wanted future courts to have both his decision and the jury’s to consider,” according to The Washington Post.
Palin’s lead lawyer told reporters outside the courthouse on Tuesday that she was considering the possibility of filing motions with Rakoff or pursuing an appeal.
“We obviously have our own view of the evidence and the law and the facts that came out during this trial,” Palin attorney Ken Turkel stated. “We’re going to evaluate all of our options for appeal, all of our options for further motions practice in court at the trial level.”
Turkel was also adamant that Palin’s legal team disagreed with the timing and the substance of Rakoff’s ruling that her side had failed to make their case that the New York Times or former editorial page editor James Bennet acted with “actual malice” when publishing a 2017 editorial linking Palin’s political action committee to the deadly shooting rampage in Tucson six years earlier that killed six people and gravely wounded Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ).
“Obviously, we felt yesterday’s order was disappointing. From our perspective, it was premature,” Turkel charged. “We’re going to evaluate all of our options.”
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