- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Fearing a potential lawsuit from Donald Trump, the American Bar Association reportedly refused to publish a report by its committee of media lawyers that labeled the Republican presidential nominee a “libel bully” for his record of suing his critics.

The report said Mr. Trump sued many of his opponents but never won a single speech-related case filed in a public court.

“Donald J. Trump is a libel bully. Like most bullies, he’s also a loser, to borrow from Trump’s vocabulary,” the report said. “Orangutans and joking aside, this examination of Trump’s libel losses also provides a powerful illustration of why more states need to enact anti-SLAPP laws to discourage libel bullies like Trump from filing frivolous lawsuits to chill speech about matters of public concern and run up legal tabs for journalists and critics.”

According to The New York Times, the bar association refused to publish the report as written, citing “the risk of the ABA being sued by Mr. Trump.”

James Dimos, the association’s deputy executive director, specifically objected to the term “libel bully” and other “inflammatory” language in the report, saying in an Oct. 19 email that changes were needed to address “the legitimately held views of ABA staff who are charged with managing the reputational and financial risk to the association,” The Times reported.

“While we do not believe that such a lawsuit has merit, it is certainly reasonable to attempt to reduce such a likelihood by removing inflammatory language that is unnecessary to further the article’s thesis,” Mr. Dimos reportedly wrote. “Honestly, it is the same advice members of the forum would provide to their own clients.”

ABA spokeswoman Carol Stevens said the association only requested “minor edits” to the report, and she denied that the fear of a libel suit had played any role in the association holding the report, The Times reported.

After reading passages from Mr. Dimos’s email, which indicated that Ms. Stevens had received it at the time, she said, “I’m not a lawyer,” adding, “and that wasn’t my fear.”

The study, titled “Donald J. Trump Is a Libel Bully but Also a Libel Loser,” was prepared by Susan E. Seager, a longtime First Amendment lawyer. The bar association proposed that the first paragraph of the article be edited out and the title be changed to, “Presidential Election Demonstrates Need for Anti-Slapp Laws” — “Slapp” being an acronym for strategic lawsuit against public participation, The Times reported.

“The ABA took out every word that was slightly critical of Donald Trump,” Ms. Seager said. “It proved my point.”

David J. Bodney, a former chairman of the media-law committee, said he was perplexed by the bar association’s actions.

“It is more than a little ironic that a publication dedicated to the exploration of First Amendment issues is subjected to censorship when it seeks to publish an article about threats to free speech,” he told The Times.

Mr. Trump has expressed a desire to tighten libel laws in the U.S. and has threatened to sue the women who have come forward in recent weeks to accuse him of sexual misconduct years ago.

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