Jeff Greene‘s lawyer is berating the Tampa Bay Times over a story on its settlement of Greene’s libel suit against it.
Greene, a Palm Beach billionaire, also is “demand(ing) that the Tampa Bay Times now disclose the amount publicly.” He sued the Times and the Miami Herald in 2010 but settled confidentially with both papers in recent weeks.
Times attorney Alison Steele, who negotiated the settlement, could not be immediately reached by phone Tuesday afternoon.
The real estate developer, who ran as a Democrat, claimed both newspapers derailed his U.S. Senate campaign that year with coverage of alleged fraudulent real estate deals and wild parties on his 145-foot yacht.
Democrat Kendrick Meek, a former state senator, went on to win the Democratic primary. The seat eventually was won by current Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.
The newspaper ran a 226-word story on the settlement last week.
In it, Times editor Neil Brown said 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.”
On Tuesday, Atlanta attorney L. Lin Wood fired back with a nearly 800-word statement released to FloridaPolitics.com and other news media.
“The statement of Neil Brown is false and misleading,” Wood said. “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 Greene.
“I stand by the statement in the previous article and the Times has nothing further to add,” Brown said in an email Tuesday evening.
Wood added that the “requirement that the amount be confidential and not be disclosed was a condition imposed by the Tampa Bay Times.”
“Having focused on defamation cases for over 20 of my 39 years of law practice, I would accurately characterize the amount paid as a significant payment for the settlement of a public figure libel case, consistent with an acknowledgment of wrongdoing,” Wood said.
He added: “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.”
Greene, Wood said, “did not file and pursue this litigation for the primary purpose of financial gain.”
Rather, he did so to publicly correct the false and defamatory statements which impugned his personal and business reputation. Mr. Greene’s primary goal was accomplished by the publication of the Editor’s Notes for each article.
Mr. Greene is a multi-billionaire and philanthropist who, along with his wife, Mei Sze, have signed the Giving Pledge started by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates. While Mr. Greene was less concerned with the settlement amount, he wanted to make certain that the amount was large enough to be consistent with an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and could never be correctly characterized as a “cost of litigation” payment – which is exactly the mischaracterization set forth in the Brown statement.
The Tampa Bay Times did not attempt to contact Mr. Greene or me for comment prior to publishing its own self-serving article based on the Brown statement. The circumstances surrounding the Brown statement, and the Tampa Bay Times article based on it, should raise serious questions of journalistic integrity and credibility in the minds of readers of the Times.
A Miami-Dade circuit judge dismissed Greene’s suit in 2012, saying he couldn’t “prove the paper acted in malice,” a legal standard in libel actions brought by public figures.
Greene would have to show the Times and Herald knew their stories were wrong or that they had a “reckless disregard” of whether their reporting was false or not.
An appellate court reversed the judge’s decision and revived the suit, saying Greene’s claims were “legally sufficient” to move forward.