Sarah Palin to seek new trial, ask for judge's disqualification in NY Times case

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Sarah Palin, 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate and former Alaska governor, exits the court during her defamation lawsuit against the New York Times, at the United States Courthouse in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., February 15, 2022. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

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NEW YORK, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican U.S. vice presidential candidate, plans to seek a new trial and have the judge disqualified after losing her defamation case against the New York Times.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan discussed Palin's plan at a hearing on Wednesday, and said he will issue a written opinion by March 1 explaining why he dismissed her case while jurors were deliberating.

He said he would speed up the opinion because of the "fracas" surrounding the dismissal.

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The unusual hearing came eight days after jurors rejected Palin's claim that the Times and former editorial page editor James Bennet defamed her in a June 2017 editorial. read more

That editorial incorrectly linked Palin to a mass shooting in 2011 where six people died and then-congresswoman Gabby Giffords was seriously wounded. It was corrected the morning after being published.

A day before the jury verdict, Rakoff said he planned to dismiss Palin's case even if jurors found in her favor, because she had not shown that the Times acted with "actual malice."

Rakoff did not tell jurors about his ruling, but several told his law clerk in routine post-trial discussions that they learned about it through "push" notifications sent from news media to their cellphones. read more

In an order last week, Rakoff said jurors assured his clerk that the notifications did not affect their deliberations, which lasted about two days.

At Wednesday's hearing, Rakoff gave Palin's lawyers until March 15 to formally request that he reconsider his dismissal, set aside the jury verdict or grant a new trial, disqualify himself, allow them to interview jurors, and discuss whether he spoke to the media during the trial.

"I had zero communications with the media during trial. None whatsoever," Rakoff said. He said he talked with a reporter about the push notifications only after jurors ruled for the Times.

The newspaper has until March 29 to respond to Palin's expected motion.

If the verdict stands, Palin is expected to appeal.

Her case is widely seen as a test of New York Times v Sullivan, a landmark 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision making it difficult for public figures to prove defamation.

To win, they must show that news media acted with actual malice in publishing false information, meaning they knew the information was false or had reckless disregard for the truth.

Two conservative Supreme Court justices, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, have suggested that the Sullivan precedent be reconsidered.

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Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Tim Ahmann

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