Nevada Supreme Court Justice gives guest lecture on libel, Donald Trump
Photo Credit: Reno Gazette Journal
Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty, a Reno High School graduate and University of Nevada, Reno alum, visited journalism students to talk libel, Trump, and news reporters’ defenses. In Assistant Professor Patrick File’s First Amendment class, a degree requirement for journalism students, Justice Hardesty spoke quoted the New York Times’ recent response to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign after the Times ran a story citing women who claimed the Republican candidate sexually harassed them.
Justice Hardesty used the Times’ response to Trump to discuss with the class the definitions of libel and defamatory content.
“It’s gone after one of the key elements in the defamation suit,” He said about the Times’ response, “Your reputation is already so sullied by your own remarks; we couldn’t make it any worse.”
Justice Hardesty is familiar with what it’s like to be a lawyer in a newsroom. He represented Reno newspapers and TV stations for years before becoming a Supreme Court justice. He regularly visits File’s class to teach students about media law.
“I’m honored that Justice Hardesty agrees to come back every semester,” File said. “I’m always impressed by his willingness to talk frankly and directly with our students about some of the key legal issues the media face, and to place them in context: these are real things media professionals must confront and consider.”
One thing Justice Hardesty focused on during his most recent visit was anti-SLAPP statutes, which protects plaintiffs against malicious lawsuits intended to silence criticism of the defendant. SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuits against public participation. This commonly comes up in defamation or libel cases, such as the New York Times example.
“Anybody who is involved in a lawsuit is involved in a very stressful and very expensive process,” Justice Hardesty explained. “It’s especially difficult when you’re being brought into a lawsuit when, quite frankly, you believe you were speaking the truth, at least as you understood it to be, and now a lawsuit is being filed with the purpose of keeping you quiet, of suppressing your free speech right.”
Anti-SLAPP statutes test whether libel cases have any weight, but in the case of the Trump campaign’s response to the New York Times, it can also be used to circumvent what could be a damaging case to the defendant.
Justice Hardesty used several cases to further illuminate libel cases in action, including a 2009 case in which a Douglass County School District employee was fired for improper conduct. The employee sued for defamation, saying the allegations of property mismanagement and sexual harassment was damaging to his reputation. The school district filed a motion to dismiss the case using the Anti-SLAPP statute in Nevada.
The court, Justice Hardesty said, concluded that there were “no communications that were false, or known to be false by school district employees, and as a consequence, using the anti-SLAPP statute was dismissed.”
Justice Hardesty says he has been visiting media law classes for over 20 years. “I really enjoy doing it,” he said. “These young people are going to be the makers of future law.