Today Newspaper wins lawsuit against attorney

POSTED: 11/27/11 10:56 AM

Court rejects demand to rectify extortion-claim statements

St. Maarten – Today Newspaper does not have to rectify its conclusion that the extortion-claim in the Bobby Velasquez rape-trial was unfounded. This newspaper also does not have to rectify a statement made by the rape-victim’s family that read, “Attorney meticulously fabricated extortion claim.”

The Court in First Instance ruled yesterday in summary proceedings against attorney mr. Jairo  Bloem who had demanded an elaborate rectification as well as $4,000 in damages. The court rejected these claims. mr. Bloem has to pay 1,500 guilders to cover the costs of Today’s attorney mr. Michael Snijder.

mr. Bloem filed the lawsuit because he felt that the articles that appeared on October 21 and 24 in Today had damaged his reputation. The court hearing took place on November 10.

Judge mr. D.M. Thierry considered that the case revolves around a clash between this newspaper’s right to freedom of expression and mr. Bloem’s right to the protection of his honor and good name and respect for his privacy.
“Sustaining Bloem’s demand for a rectification would mean a restriction of Today’s basic right to freedom of opinion, as described in the European Human Rights Treaty. This right can only be restricted when this is necessary in a democratic society, for instance to protect the good name and rights of others. A restriction by law occurs when the statements by Today are unlawful.”

mr. Bloem stated in his lawsuit that Today acted unlawfully, because the articles amount to accusations at his address and because they damage his reputation while the (contested) statements are not supported by facts. “Bloem does not only refer to the articles’ content, but also to the headline above the October 24 article.”

That headline read: Attorney meticulously fabricated extortion claim.

But mr. Bloem’s first complaint concerned Today’s statement, in an article about Bobby Velasquez’ rape-conviction on October 21, that the extortion claim was unsubstantiated.

During the trial, the defense had accused the rape-victim’s mother of an attempt to extort $1.8 million from Velasquez to make the rape-allegation go away. In the article, this newspaper wrote literally: “But the court did not even make this unsubstantiated claim part of its considerations.”

According to mr. Bloem this sentence “unjustly suggested that the appeals court had ruled that this accusation was unsubstantiated.”

The appeals court ruling of October 20 did not contain a consideration about the extortion claim. “In the court’s opinion Hilbert Haar, the Today journalist who reported about Bobby Velasquez’ prosecution had deduced from the circumstance that the court did not consider the extortion accusation that the court rejected it as unfounded. In principle a journalist is free to interpret facts in his own way and to publish his conclusions.”

This newspaper’s conclusion that the extortion claim was unfounded according to the appeals court “cannot be qualified as a statement that is incorrect, finds no support in the facts, or violates the limits of acceptable opinionating reporting,” Judge Thierry wrote in his ruling.

The judge also noted that this newspaper, in the article that appeared on October 24, dedicated space to mr. Bloem’s objection against the “unsubstantiated” qualification.

The court also dismissed mr. Bloem’s complaints about this article’s headline. “The article reflects the family’s opinion. The headline and the quotes are not unnecessary offensive, considering that Bloem himself – knowing that the victim’s mother (name omitted – ed.) as a witness before the Judge of Instruction explicitly has denied an attempt at extortion – has accused the family of this attempt in court. Bloem has called upon himself that the mother would make her opinion public.”

Judge Thierry stated in the ruling that the mother’s position is defendable based on the available documents. “The tenor is in the court’s opinion that if Bobby Velasquez maintained that the girl lied (about the rape – ed.) and the mother had to leave the island considering her family ties with him, he would have to facilitate their departure by buying her apartments.”

The court ruled that this newspaper reported Bloem’s opinion as well as the mother’s opinion about the possible sale of the apartments. “Today has kept sufficient distance from the contested statements. The statements are sufficiently supported by the letter to Today entitled Setting the record straight.”

The court furthermore noted that this newspaper reported twice about Bloem’s position that the extortion-attempt is supported by several statements in the October 21 article. “Hearing the other side of the story has been sufficiently guaranteed.”

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