US-based Haitian newspaper sentenced to pay $2.4 M for libel

Published on by HCNN Editor (author)

MIAMI, Florida, USA (HCNN) – The weekly newspaper, Haiti Observateur, and its publisher Leopold Joseph have been sentenced by two different US federal judges to pay USD 2.4 million, after being sued for libel in two different lawsuits, HCNN has learned.

Since March 2014, they have been ordered by different federal judges in Florida (USA) to pay a total of $2.4 million to two Haitian businessmen as a result of the publication of defamatory articles on the newspaper’s online and print editions.

On March 18, 2014, a federal judge in Miami, Paul C. Huck, issued a judgment in the case filed by businessman Dimitri Vorbe against Haiti Observateur and its owner Leopold Joseph (Vorbe v. Haiti Observateur Group, No. 13 Civ. 20114 (PCH).

The court ruled that the newspaper had defamed Vorbe in a series of articles published in the Fall of 2012, in which it charged that Vorbe was part of a gang complicit in kidnapping, illegal drugs, and arms trafficking in Haiti, and that the businessman had partaken in the execution of an individual named Ronald Chery.

Vorbe sued Haiti Obervateur and its owner, arguing that the articles were false and highly defamatory.  Vorbe’s civil complaint explained that, when publishing the articles, Haiti Observateur had acted with “evil motive and actual malice, with intent to injure, disgrace and defame. 

The court agreed to the newspapers’ culpability by ruling that the statements were false and libelous, and judge Huck ordered Haiti Observateur and its owner to pay Vorbe the sum of 1.25 million in compensation for defamation. 

Haiti Observateur and Joseph were the subject of a similar ruling issued last week in a related case brought against them by Stanley Handal, a “businessman with substantial Haitian and international business dealings” (Handal v. Haiti Observateur Group, No. 13 Civ. 20111 (DLG)).

That case, which stemmed from the same articles published by Haiti Observateur in 2012, was assigned to judge Donald L. Graham, of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Handal claimed that the articles implicating him in the kidnapping ring involving jailed Clifford Brandt were false and defamatory.  Once again, the federal court in Florida agreed.

On July 17, 2014, Judge Graham ordered Haiti Observateur and Joseph to pay Handal the sum of 1.15 million, including one million dollars of punitive damages to address “the seriousness of [Haiti Observateur’s] misconduct and promote deterrence of similar conduct. 

Haiti Observateur and his owner Leo Joseph were also blamed for defamatory stories to the prejudice of Haitian Prime minister Laurent Lamothe’s reputation. Lamothe did not seek any monetary compensation.

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