Following one of the most unusual federal rulings in recent history, which barred a Haitian-American journalist from publishing the Haitian prime minister's name, District Judge Ursula Ungaro lifted her judgment in Miami court yesterday, granting Leo Joseph his First Amendment rights.
Which means: Booya. Grab your popcorn -- this defamation case may be going to trial.
- Federal Judge Bars Journalist From Covering the Haitian Prime Minister
- Leo Joseph, Editor of Haiti Observateur, Says He'll Fight Defamation Ruling, Stands by Exposé on Haiti's Prime Minister
In a three-part mea culpa, Ungaro said the original judgment against Joseph, who owns and edits the Haiti Observateur, constituted prior restraint and was "unfavored."
"Judgments that enjoin the publication of non-defamatory statements are invalid," Ungaro wrote.
This whole fracas pitting one of Haiti's most influential -- and controversial -- newspapers and the nation's political establishment arcs back to last year.
Joseph, gray-haired, adversarial, and 74, had published a thinly sourced article alleging Haiti Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe had set himself up to embezzle $25 million in the sale of a government-owned telephone company named Haitel. Joseph alleged that Lamothe, who once owned an additional telemarketing company, orchestrated a meeting in New York with the Haiti consul general to christen the deal.
While the veracity of Joseph's report remains uncertain -- Haitel CEO Franck Cine says it's true; Consul General Charles Forbin says it isn't -- Lamothe sued Joseph, calling the Observateur's "scandalous" journalism the stuff of tabloids.
(Full disclosure: New Times is a tabloid.)
Then, silence. Joseph didn't respond to the litigation and today says he wasn't properly served.
In his absence, Lamothe's lawyers slid before Ungaro a default judgment. They'd scuttled inside a clause that wasn't in their earlier complaints, barring Joseph from ever again publishing anything related to Lamothe.
Ungaro inked the ruling, and we were off to the races.
Last time we wrote a story on this, Lamothe's attorney, Miguel Armenteros, said, "This thing may be going to trial."
It would appear that prediction was spot-on. And we can only hope the Haiti prime minister will be coming to South Florida for the circus.
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