Leo Joseph, Editor of Haiti Observateur, Says He'll Fight Defamation Ruling, Stands by Exposé on Haiti's Prime Minister
Haiti Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe says he didn't commit any of the reported wrongdoings.
Following a scathing judgment concerning a defamation lawsuit in Miami court last month barring a prominent Haitian-American journalist, Leo Joseph, from printing the name of the Haitian prime minister, Joseph has vowed to fight the ruling, calling it another manifestation of the politician's corruption.
Last August, Joseph published a series of articles in Haiti Observateur, which he also edits, detailing alleged wrongdoing by Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe. Joseph reported that Lamothe -- who owns a telemarketing firm -- had set himself up to profit from the sale of Haitel, a large telephone company, through his connections to the Haitian government.
"It's a very juicy story," Joseph said.
Joseph wrote in one story that Lamothe would obtain the "lion's share" of the profits made off the $25 million transaction.
Weeks later, Lamothe, as well as Patrice Baker, a prominent South Florida businessman who was also mentioned in the report, filed a defamation lawsuit in Miami court, alleging that Joseph had severely damaged their reputations with his stories in Haiti Observateur -- which has a weekly circulation of 75,000 and a large online following in Florida.
"Defendant's statements... are entirely false and conjured to destroy the reputation of Baker and Lamothe," Miami Circuit Judge Ursula Ungaro wrote in her judgment. "The damage to [Baker and Lamothe's] personal, professional, and political reputations represents an immediate and irreparable injury for which there is no remedy at law."
She continued: "The publications are replete with statements that are outrageous, scandalous and reminiscent of a tabloid publication."
Now, Joseph says he stands by his reporting. "I'm holding my ground," he said. "What I was reporting didn't come from me; it came from other people."
(His reports, however, carry few attributions.)
What's more, Joseph said, he wasn't properly served with the paperwork alerting him to the litigation. Joseph, who lives in New York, said he didn't know the lawsuit "wasn't a joke" until it was too late -- and, at trial, Miami Judge Ursula Ungaro entered a default judgment because Joseph wasn't present.
"It's not because they were right," Joseph said. "It's because I didn't show up. It's not that I didn't tell the truth; the truth was there to be told.
"If they didn't sue me and try to shut me up, they knew I was going to blow the whole thing up," he said. "It's corruption, corruption, corruption -- three capital corruptions."
He said he's now amassed a legal team and will move to vacate the ruling and prove he hadn't committed defamation.
Until then, however, Joseph says he plans on printing Lamothe's name.
"Can you tell me not to put his name in the article?" Joseph said. "No judge can tell me to do that. He is the prime minister, and I cannot omit the prime minister's name."
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