A Montgomery County Circuit Judge delivered a blow Friday to a Clarksburg blogger’s attempt to fend off a defamation lawsuit filed by first lady Melania Trump.
Judge Sharon Burrell denied blogger Webster Tarpley’s motion to dismiss the libel claim Trump brought against him after he published a post in August on his website alleging that Trump worked as a high-end escort in New York during the 1990s before marrying Donald Trump.
The first lady did not appear at the county courthouse in Rockville, unlike when she made a surprise appearance for a routine scheduling hearing in the case in December.
Trump is also suing the British publication The Daily Mail in Montgomery County as well as London for a similar August website post in which the tabloid alluded to the possibility that Trump was involved with an escort agency in New York.
An attorney for the tabloid argued a Maryland court shouldn’t have jurisdiction over the case because the publication’s American business is based in New York, while the publication itself is based in London. Burrell did not issue a decision on the tabloid’s request to dismiss the case, instead saying she would issue a written order at a later date.
Tarpley, 70, operates his blog out of a townhouse in Clarksburg.
Both websites took their posts down and issued retractions after attorneys for Trump notified them of defamation claims.
Trump’s attorney is Charles Harder, the well-known Los Angeles entertainment lawyer who handled the Gawker – Hulk Hogan case.
On Friday, Harder described Tarpley’s post as “textbook defamation.” Harder said the words used by Tarpley in the post, such as it’s “widely known that Melania was not a working model but rather a high end escort” amounted to statements of fact by him that were false.
Harder said the comments exceed the bar to prove libel against a public figure and amounted to a reckless disregard for the truth.
Tarpley’s attorney, Danielle Giroux, attempted to make the case that the blogger was discussing internet rumors about Trump’s past that could affect the presidency of Donald Trump—and that the allegations were in the public interest.
“He wanted to ignite conversation with his article,” Giroux said, adding that Tarpley hoped others would investigate the claims more thoroughly.
Harder responded that Tarpley made no attempt to fact-check the allegations, including one claim in which he alleged the rapper 50 Cent said Trump had been featured in porn. Harder said Tarpley failed to look into “the library of porn content” to determine if the allegation was true.
“The job of a reporter is to vet it before it’s published,” Harder said. “That’s what he failed to do.”
Burrell, in issuing her ruling to deny Tarpley’s motion to dismiss, explained that calling a woman a prostitute is a highly defamatory statement. The judge also noted that Melania Trump was not the one running for office when the post was published.
Burrell however did dismiss one of Trump’s claims—that Tarpley’s post caused “torturous interference” with her businesses. Burrell said Trump’s attorneys failed to provide evidence about which of Trump’s businesses were impacted by Tarpley’s post.
Harder also tried to make the case that the Montgomery County court should have jurisdiction over The Daily Mail’s involvement in the case because its articles are published online in Maryland and the website publishes advertising from Maryland businesses.
Burrell seemed reticent to accept this argument, saying it could be applied to all 50 states in the country, given the online publication’s massive reach.
An attorney for the tabloid, Kelli Sager, said that if Trump wants to pursue the case in the U.S., she should do it in New York, where she lives, and where the publication’s U.S. headquarters is located.
When the lawsuit was first filed in September, attorneys for Trump were seeking $150 million in damages.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for June, according to online court records.