Attorney sues Today Newspaper over extortion claim article

POSTED: 11/12/11 6:33 AM

Demands: rectification and $4000 in damages

St. Maarten – Attorney Mr. Jairo
Bloem is suing the Today newspaper over what he considers incorrect and
unlawful publications that he says have caused him material and immaterial
damages. The civil lawsuit in summary proceedings took place on Thursday
afternoon.

At the heart of the lawsuit are
two complaints. The first one concerns an article in Today on Friday October 21
under the headline Appeals court finds
Bobby Velasquez guilty of rape.
In this article, Today concluded based on
the verdict that accusations were unfounded that the family of the rape victim
had attempted to extort $1.5 to 1.8 million from Velasquez to make the
complaint go away. On Monday October 24, Today published an article wherein the
family of the victim was quoted as saying, Attorney
meticulously fabricated extortion claim
.

Bloem contests the opinion of
the family and he also contests that the claim was unfounded, as Today
concluded in its October 21 article. The attorney demands $4000 in damages plus
$1 for two copies of this newspaper he bought to read the contested stories.

The attorney asked the court to
order Today to publish a
rectification and submitted a proposal for this in his lawsuit. The newspaper
had refused earlier demands to rectify because it considers its reporting
accurate and justified. Bloem also asked the court to forbid Today from expressing itself verbally
and in writing about him “in a way that violates the truth, is abusive
(intentionally or not) or insulting, or violates his honor and good name.”
Bloem further asked the court to impose a 10, 000 guilder penalty for every day
Today does not comply with the
verdict.

In a petition containing
additional demands, Bloem asked the court to forbid Today from repeating the publication of the contested paragraphs.
He also petitioned the court to forbid this newspaper to write in the future
about the criminal case against his client Bobby Velasquez.

Bloem motivated this request
with the preposition that “a lot of information has been made available about
the criminal case of B. Velasquez against the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The
plaintiff fears that the defendant will use or misuse this information in the
future by publishing it. Attending the handling of a case is one thing, having
detailed process documents at one’s disposal, being able to study them and
publishing them in detail is something completely different. The plaintiff
concludes that the defendant publishes information one-sided and incorrectly
and dares, after receiving objective advice, dares to state that the defendant
abuses the means at her disposal, and thereby her power.”

Bloem said in court on Thursday,
where he acted as his own attorney, that it is incomprehensible that “an
attorney who attempts to represent the interests of his client to the best of
his abilities, is being depicted on one-sided statements as a liar and as
somebody who accuses others without foundation of extortion practices.”

Bloem said that the damages he
suffered after the publication of the articles, including missing out on new
clients and losing existing clients is impossible to estimate at the moment.

The attorney for Today, Mr. Michael Snijder, told the court that the key question is
whether this newspaper acted unlawfully towards Mr. Bloem.

Today is of the opinion that it has acted carefully, and that she
has not used terms that deliberately damaged Bloem’s honor and good name. Today has exposed a possible abuse,
while the content of the publications is sufficiently supported by the facts
that were available at the time. Today
did not report one-sided, because it also highlighted Bloem’s opinion in the
articles.”

Snijder asked the court to
reject all of Bloem’s demands. He pointed out that a court order to rectify “in
general constitutes a violation of the freedom of opinion.”

“Such a violation is only
justified when serious interests in a democratic society require this.”

Snijder said that Today was entitled to criticize the
extortion claim, because the article is based on extensive research and
supported by quotes from the rape victim’s family.

“The article also makes clear
that Bloem contests these statements. It is also clear that the statements in
the article are opinions and not factual statements. Nowhere in the article are
there unnecessary abusive remarks or statements that intentionally violate
Bloem’s honor and good name.”

The attorney said that Bloem
could have used other means to make his position clear, for instance by sending
a letter to the editor. Snijder concluded that Today did not act unlawfully towards Bloem and asked the court to
reject the demand for rectification. He also asked the court to reject all
other demands made by the opposing party.

Bloem remarked in reply that
several people in the community had come to him with similar complaints about
the way Today operates. The only name
he mentioned was that of former Public Health Minister Maria Buncamper-Molanus.

      Today’s Managing Editor Hilbert Haar (for clarity’s
sake: also the author of this article) briefly addressed the court, saying that
the newspaper stands for responsible journalism. Other than Mr. Bloem claimed
during the proceedings, Haar said that the material for the article wherein the
family expressed its opinion about the extortion claim had been collected
already before the verdict in the rape case was out. The article is therefore
not a negative reaction to an email Bloem sent to the newspaper on October 21.

Haar also pointed out that the
former Public Health Minister Buncamper-Molanus had been the subject of a
series of articles in December that exposed her fiddling with leased government
land and selling its economic ownership for $3 million to a bogus company. As a
result of these articles, Haar said, the minister had to step down and she
could still become the subject of a criminal investigation.

Judge Mr. D.M, Thierry will
pronounce his verdict on Friday December 2.

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