Home Courts Judge dismisses Westport man’s slander and libel lawsuit against News 12 Connecticut

Judge dismisses Westport man’s slander and libel lawsuit against News 12 Connecticut

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A federal court dismissed a defamation case against News 12 Connecticut filed by a Westport man who claimed the station slandered and libeled him by referring to him as a stalker following his arrest on a second-degree breach of peace charge.

news12 libel slander james lawrence
James Lawrence in his March 2018 arrest photograph. Courtesy Westport Police Department

James Lawrence was charged by Westport police with one count of second degree breach of peach for following a woman through the Fresh Market grocery store and into the store’s parking lot on Nov. 25, 2017, after she filed a complaint that he followed her through the store and into the parking lot. Police issued an arrest warrant for Lawrence, who turned himself in on March 5, 2018, He was released after posting a $5,000 court set bond.

In his lawsuit against the station, Lawrence described News 12 journalist Mark Sudol as a “slimy reporter” who arrived at his residence on March 14, 2018. Lawrence claimed that he was “shocked that such a low-level charge would be news for the likes of News 12 Connecticut, given all the far more worse alleged crimes that happen every day,” but agreed to a 45-minute conversation with Sudol.

Lawrence alleged the subsequent coverage was full of slanderous errors regarding the nature of his arrest and his previous arrest record in California and he argued that using the words “stalker” and “stalking” in relation to his Westport arrest was libelous because he was not charged with stalking.

However, U.S. District Chief Judge Stefan Underhill of the District of Connecticut rejected Lawrence’s lawsuit that claimed he was a victim of slander and libel by the news station. In a 23-page ruling, Underhill stated the News 12 coverage was “substantially true and not defamatory.”

The television station argued in court papers that it was “substantially true” to characterize Lawrence’s behavior as stalking. Lawrence, on the other hand, countered that the media outlet’s description of him was defamatory because “they were false and met all other requirements of defamation.” Underhill added that Lawrence could not claim damages for emotional distress, citing the news coverage as constitutionally protected conduct.

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