Being a judge is a great job. But it comes with disadvantages. What we do, we do in public, and we submit to public discussion and criticism of our decisions, both fair and unfair. Federalist No. 78 noted the importance of judges being independent of the “effects of those bad moods, which are the arts of fashioning men, or the influence of particular conjunctures.” [that] sometimes they spread among the people themselves.” That is as true today as it was in the 18th century. Being a judge requires a tough skin and a willingness to make decisions in the face of criticism, even unfair criticism, and to remember that sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me.
After Judge Paula Patrick issued a controversial decision on a statue of Christopher Columbus in South Philadelphia, it came under scrutiny and criticism. An article in the Daily Beast referred to her as “linked to QAnon” in its headline. Judge Patrick says that’s neither true nor fair, so she filed a lawsuit, claiming the article paints her in a false light. But Judge Patrick has not alleged facts that make it plausible that the Daily Beast or its reporter Laura Bradley acted with genuine malice in their reporting. Because Judge Patrick failed to uphold one element of her false light claim and conceded that she has nothing further to plead, I will dismiss her claim amended with prejudice…
Judge Patrick has served on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas since her election in 2003. In 2021, she lost a bid for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the Republican primary. Judge Patrick participated in many events as part of her campaign for the Supreme Court.
Among these campaign events was a 40-minute video interview on Up Front in the Prophetic with QAnon supporter Prophetess Francine Fodsick. QAnon supporters believe, without proof, that President Trump was chosen to defeat an alleged cabal of cannibalistic pedophiles in government. During the interview with the prophetess Francine, Judge Patrick did not dispute that he was considering attending a conference associated with QAnon that year. Judge Patrick’s name later appeared on a speaker list for the conference, although she did not attend. Judge Patrick rejected any QAnon links in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Ms. Bradley wrote, and the Daily Beast published, the article, which outlines Judge Patrick’s high-profile case over the removal of a statue of Christopher Columbus from a Philadelphia park. The article focuses on Judge Patrick’s ruling requiring the City of Philadelphia to remove a plywood box that the statute covers. The article also devotes a paragraph to the “drama” surrounding Judge Patrick’s alleged QAnon link. It references Judge Patrick’s interview with Prophetess Francine, her inclusion on the speaker list for the QAnon-affiliated conference, and her denial of any plans to attend the conference. Ms. Bradley drew on local Pennsylvania news sources for the article, including: (1) The Philadelphia Inquirer, (2) CBS Philadelphia, and (3) 6 Action News. She did not conduct any independent research or interviews for the Article….
Judge Patrick’s only claim is for invasion of privacy with false light. In Pennsylvania, a false light claim “imposes liability on a person who posts material that ‘is not true, is grossly offensive to a reasonable person, and is posted knowingly or with reckless disregard for its falsehood.'” Based on my decision. on the above motion to dismiss, I focus on whether Judge Patrick has declared “actual malice” which means reckless knowledge or disregard of falsehood…
Judge Patrick’s amended complaint includes words like “reckless,” “malicious,” and “knowingly false” in nearly every paragraph, but lacks the facts to support these legal conclusions. The Amended Complaint alleges only that: 1) Ms. Bradley used other news sources, rather than completing her own independent research, in writing the Article; 2) Judge Patrick denied any links to QAnon in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer; and 3) Defendants ignored and withheld from readers information about Judge Patrick’s QAnon link. None of these facts, individually or collectively, amount to actual malice.
As an initial matter, I note that “real malice centers on [the defendants’] attitude towards the truth, not towards [the plaintiff].'” Therefore, Judge Patrick’s claims that the defendants published the article “to harm Judge Patrick, whose policies apparently do not align with those of the Daily Beast defendants” and other similar claims do not show actual malice.Therefore, my focus must be on defendants’ malice to the truth.
First, Ms. Bradley’s reliance on other news sources, rather than conducting an independent investigation, is not evidence of actual malice. “[A] failure to investigate, by itself, does not constitute actual malice” where there is no evidence that the journalist doubted the veracity of her story. Judge Patrick does not allege facts that make it plausible that Ms Bradley doubted her story or that she she would have reason to doubt it.
Judge Patrick argues that the articles Ms Bradley relied on do not support the claim that Judge Patrick was linked to QAnon. I disagree. As Judge Patrick argued in her state court lawsuit, “A proper reading of the April 30, 2021 Inquirer article is that Judge Patrick is associated with or had an affiliation with Q’Anon.” Judge Patrick holds that the defendants cannot rely on the Inquirer article because it did not hyperlink to the article. But it is referenced in the sentence “[Judge Patrick] she told the Inquirer she had no idea why she was listed as a speaker.” And Judge Patrick cast doubt on the April Inquirer article by quoting it in his Amended Complaint to support his contention that Defendants acted with genuine malice.
Second, Judge Patrick’s confidence in his denial of a QAnon link is misplaced. The fact that Judge Patrick denied a QAnon link does not deny her interview with a QAnon supporter or that she was listed as a speaker at a QAnon-affiliated conference. Nor should her refusal have alerted Ms. Bradley that the Article was, or even might be, false. “[T]The press need not accept denials, however vehement they may be; Such denials are so common in the world of controversial allegations and counter-accusations that, by themselves, they hardly alert the conscientious reporter to the likelihood of error.”
Third, the information that Judge Patrick asserts the defendants withheld does not make the article’s reference to “QAnon-linked” false. The Amended Complaint asserts that Defendants concealed that (a) Judge Patrick denied the QAnon link, (b) she did not attend the QAnon-affiliated event, and (c) the interview occurred during Judge Patrick’s campaign for the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. If the Daily Beast had included all of this information in the article, it would not have made the reference to “QAnon-linked” false. Judge Patrick met with a QAnon supporter and his name appeared on a speaker list for the QAnon-affiliated conference. These facts weigh in favor of the title of the article and against a statement of falsehood. Perhaps the headline wasn’t the fairest weighting of those contradictory facts, but that’s not enough to show actual malice.
It is not even clear that the Defendants withheld the information that Judge Patrick claims. The article reported that Judge Patrick “denied that she ever planned to attend a QAnon-affiliated event” and that she “had no idea why she was listed as a speaker.” Inherent in those statements is that she did not attend the event. The article also noted that Judge Patrick “unsuccessfully ran for a state Supreme Court seat earlier this year,” though it does not say that the interviews in question occurred as part of that campaign.
Finally, even viewed collectively, the actions in question do not rise to the level of actual malice. Read from the point of view most favorable to Judge Patrick, they show that the Daily Beast and Mrs. Bradley did not do an actual reporting before publishing her story and that they chose to view the facts from a point of view unfavorable to Judge Patrick. That’s harsh, perhaps unduly. And lay bare any notion that they were engaged in journalism. But it doesn’t make plausible the idea that they knew their description of Judge Patrick was false. Nor does it prove that the Daily Beast and Mrs. Bradley stuck their heads in the sand with a reckless disregard for the truth…
Judge Patrick has tried to litigate these claims three times, once in state court and now twice in this Court. He withdrew the lawsuit against him in state court and has not filed any claims in both lawsuits in this Court. In addition, in my preliminary conference held on April 17, 2023, Judge Patrick’s attorney confirmed that she had asserted all the facts she had in her amended complaint and that if her allegations continued without a claim, she would have no claim. base. for further amendment. Furthermore, the defendants ask me to dismiss with prejudice, and Judge Patrick does not respond or seek permission to amend. Therefore, I will dismiss Judge Patrick’s complaint with prejudice….
Congratulations to Kaitlin Gurney, Leslie Minora, and Seth Berlin (Ballard Spahr LLP), who are representing the defendants.
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