NC judge dismisses libel case against Project Veritas

EMERY P. DALESIO
FILE - In this Sept. 1, 2015, file photo, James O'Keefe, President of Project Veritas Action, waits to be introduced during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington. A trial over a lawsuit against O'Keefe is under way in North Carolina. At issue is how a woman who was struck in the face outside a 2016 Donald Trump campaign rally was portrayed in a video. Jurors in Asheville were sequestered overnight to hear testimony Tuesday, May 21, 2019, in Shirley Teter’s lawsuit. Police said the disabled woman was assaulted and knocked to the ground. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday by a North Carolina woman assaulted outside a 2016 Donald Trump campaign rally who claimed she was then libeled by a conservative group that produces "sting" videos intended to embarrass liberal organizations.

U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger stopped the trial against Project Veritas, its founder James O'Keefe and its tax-exempt social welfare affiliate Project Veritas Action before jurors considered the case.

Attorneys for O'Keefe and the organization known for videotaping people without their knowledge argued successfully that Shirley Teter's lawyers hadn't proved the videos depicting her were published despite knowing the information was false or with reckless disregard for its truth or falsity.

Teter, 71, had joined a crowd of protesters outside a Trump rally on Sept. 12, 2016, at an arena a block from her downtown Asheville senior housing apartment. The disabled woman was struck in the face and knocked to the ground, police said. A South Carolina man was arrested days later, but charges were later dropped.

Teter claimed online videos released by Project Veritas Action Fund linked her to a purported plot by Democratic operatives to incite violence at Trump campaign rallies. She said that was untrue.

The judge said before issuing his decision that political discourse risked being hampered if citizens and the media were handcuffed by fear of legal liability, but the law also needs to impose some standard of responsibility. The line in this case was between what the law requires for proof and what jurors can decide is the truth, Reidinger said.

"While the internet has broadened the number and the variety of available voices in the marketplace of ideas, it has also served to undermine the public's confidence in the veracity of those sources," Reidinger said, according to a transcript of Wednesday's court session. "That fine line has to be walked. And I think that walking that fine line required this court to take a close look at what issues are really for this court and what issues are really for this jury."

The judge decided Teter's lawyers didn't present clear and convincing evidence that there was actual malice — that is, knowing or not caring whether statements in the videos were false. O'Keefe's attorneys contended Teter was required to prove actual malice because she became a public figure after speaking to the news media about the assault.

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