NEW YORK – The judge presiding over Sarah Palin's defamation case against The New York Times said he was unfamiliar with push notifications and didn't realize news of his decision to toss out the lawsuit would reach jurors deliberating simultaneously. Despite that, he wrote that it didn’t really matter.
U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff said in a written decision released Tuesday that he was “frank to confess” that he was unfamiliar with the term “push notifications” and did not “fully appreciate the potential for jurors to be involuntarily informed” about his plans.
The libel lawsuit by Palin, a one-time Republican vice-presidential candidate, centered on the newspaper's 2017 editorial falsely linking her campaign rhetoric to a mass shooting, which Palin asserted damaged her reputation and career.
Rakoff said in mid-February that he would dismiss the lawsuit because Palin had failed to show The Times acted out of malice, something required in libel lawsuits involving public figures. That decision came while the jury was still deliberating; jurors themselves rejected Palin's lawsuit the next day.
The Times acknowledged their editorial was inaccurate, but said it quickly corrected the errors they called an “honest mistake” never meant to harm Palin.
Rakoff said he thought it was fair to all parties not to wait for the jury's verdict because he had already decided as a matter of law that the former Alaskan governor hadn’t proven her case. The jury could have been dismissed at that point, but Rakoff let them reach a verdict in the event an appeals court eventually concluded he was wrong and returned the case to the lower court for a jury trial, as it had already done once before.
“While this approach was a bit unusual, neither side objected to it in the slightest,” Rakoff wrote.
The judge said he never seriously considered keeping his plans to reject the case quiet before a jury verdict because the wait would have been “grossly unfair to both sides.” Rakoff also noted that a few jurors later told one of his aides that learning of Rakoff's decision didn't affect their deliberations.
Rakoff recalled that a lawyer for the newspaper raised the possibility of “push notifications” and asked that he remind jurors of their pledge not to view or hear news reports, which he did.
But he said lawyers on both sides “sought no further relief," such as asking jurors to turn off automatic alerts on their phones, and lawyers for Palin didn't seek “any such step or indeed any instruction to the jury whatsoever.”
The judge also gave a nod to critics, saying “some outsiders” had quickly assumed jurors were influenced by his ruling but he knew of no reason "why the highly conscientious citizens who served as jurors in this case would be so firm that they were unaffected by this information unless it were true.”
“The Court is thus left with the definite conviction that the information did not remotely affect the ultimate verdict,” he added.
Messages seeking comment were sent to attorneys on both sides.
Danielle Rhoades Ha, a spokesperson for the Times, said the newspaper remains “confident that the judge and jury decided the case fairly and correctly."