September 28, 2012 / 8:05 PM / 7 years ago

Spitzer, Slate win dismissal of ex-Marsh exec's libel lawsuit

* Former NY governor was sued over online column

* Ex-Marsh & McLennan exec Gilman said Spitzer defamed him

* Spitzer had prosecuted insurance bid-rigging

By Jonathan Stempel

Sept 28 (Reuters) - Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and the online magazine Slate on Friday won dismissal of a $60 million libel lawsuit by a former Marsh & McLennan Cos executive over a column about an insurance bid-rigging scandal.

U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken in Manhattan threw out former executive marketing director William Gilman’s 13-month-old lawsuit against Spitzer and The Slate Group LLC.

He also dismissed the defendants’ request for damages from Gilman for having allegedly brought a meritless case to harass them and silence criticism.

Oetken announced his decision in a brief order, and said he will explain his reasoning in a written opinion. Slate is owned by Washington Post Co.

Jay Ward Brown, a lawyer for Spitzer and Slate, said: “The defendants are grateful for the outcome.”

Jeffrey Liddle, a lawyer for Gilman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Edward McNenney, a former Marsh global placement director, last year filed a separate $30 million libel lawsuit in a New York state court against Spitzer and Slate. He has also been represented by Liddle.

Both cases stemmed from a column on Aug. 22, 2010, “They Still Don’t Get It,” in which Spitzer advocated prosecution of corporate wrongdoers and defended his enforcement case against Marsh and insurer American International Group Inc.

The column appeared three months after a judge had thrown out felony antitrust conviction against Gilman and McNenney.

Gilman said Spitzer defamed him by calling Marsh’s behavior “a blatant abuse of law and market power” that allowed employees to pocket kickbacks, and by linking “many employees of Marsh” to criminal conduct.

Spitzer and Slate countered that readers could not have reasonably believed that the challenged statements were about Gilman, who was not named in the column. McNenney was also not named.

In 2004, Spitzer, then New York’s attorney general, opened a probe into alleged kickbacks for steering clients to favored insurers, which led to Marsh agreeing in January 2005 to pay $850 million in a civil settlement.

Twenty-one people pleaded guilty in connection with the probe. Eight executives including Gilman and McNenney were indicted, but all were acquitted or had their cases dismissed.

In June, Oetken rejected claims by Gilman and McNenney in a separate lawsuit to recover unpaid compensation, where they had accused Marsh of colluding with Spitzer to make them “scapegoats” and avert criminal charges against the company.

The cases is Gilman v. Spitzer et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11-05843.

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