George Zimmerman’s civil lawyer is vowing to appeal the ruling that Judge Debra Nelson made that tossed the defamation lawsuit against NBC. Judge Nelson wrote that Zimmerman “shall take nothing” even though NBC in multiple broadcasts edited a 911 police tape that inaccurately made Zimmerman appear racist during his encounter with Trayvon Martin in 2012.
“We obviously disagree with the judge,” said James Beasley, Zimmerman’s civil lawyer, “We understand she has her position and we respect it, but we obviously disagree.”
Judge Nelson also presided over Zimmerman’s 2013 second-degree murder trial, in which he was acquitted.
Judge Nelson in her ruling declared that for the purposes of libel, Zimmerman was a public figure. In so ruling, Nelson agreed with NBC’s motion to dismiss, which argued that Zimmerman’s public profile predated the encounter with Martin. He became a public figure, according to them, when he opposed the Sanford Police Department when they were slow to investigate the relative of a law enforcement official who allegedly had beaten a black man. He also lobbied for a neighborhood watch group. Nelson wrote in her ruling that his interviews along with the above mentioned events made him a public figure because he “voluntarily injected his views into the public controversy surrounding race relations and public safety…”
Public figures have almost insurmountable odds when it comes to winning libel and defamation suits. To prevail, a public figure must prove that a news organization proceeded with “actual malice” that is, the reporters disseminated false information knowingly or recklessly. Judge Nelson held that according to the public figure rules, there is no evidence that NBC “knew that the information [it] published was false…or recklessly disregarded the truth…”
Zimmerman would like to challenge that public figure ruling.
“The nature and extent of his thrusting himself into this as opposed to NBC thrusting him…is a fundamental question,” Beasley said.
Courts and lawyers have constantly argued over who is and who isn’t a public figure and whether it matters if you involuntarily become a public figure. The interesting part of Judge Nelson’s ruling is that she basically says that Zimmerman was the target of so much negative publicity that NBC’s editing didn’t harm him.
“The undisputed evidence shows negative publicity was directed at Zimmerman by the Martin family’s lawyer, by civil rights activists, and by a litany of news media entities well before the non-emergency call was released to the public and before NBC broadcast any of the news reports at issue.”
Beasley isn’t worried. He noted that NBC found the error great enough to fire several employees.