- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2016

After nine months of paperwork jousting, Ryan Zimmerman’s defamation suit against Al Jazeera America, its parent company and multiple people involved with “The Dark Side” documentary, will move into a courtroom Tuesday.

The Washington Nationals first baseman filed suit against Al Jazeera America, the Al Jazeera Media Network, Al Jazeera Media International, Liam Collins and reporter Deborah Davies on Jan. 5 following the airing of a documentary in which former Indianapolis anti-aging institute worker Charlie Sly claimed he supplied Zimmerman with performance-enhancing drugs. Zimmerman quickly and vehemently denied the accusation. He filed his defamation suit to prove his innocence, he said, despite those types of suits often being difficult to win.

Tuesday, his case will be part of a joint motion hearing with a similar suit filed by Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who was also named by Sly in the documentary. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will listen to the defense argue in favor of dismissing the suits on the grounds they cannot prove “malice.” The plaintiffs want the suits to go forward, continuing what is sure to be an extended, and likely invasive, process should that happen. Judge Jackson’s ruling will be the first significant movement in the case.

Zimmerman, 31, will not be in attendance at the hearing because he is required to be at Nationals Park by 2:30 p.m. for the Nationals’ 7:05 p.m. game against the New York Mets, according to court documents filed by Zimmerman’s attorneys. The document also noted that the Nationals did not provide Zimmerman permission to be “late or absent” because of the hearing, which is set for 2:45 p.m. in U.S. District Court. Howard will also not attend the joint hearing. The Phillies play at home on Tuesday night.

Major League Baseball announced Aug. 19 that it “did not find any violations” when it investigated the accusations made in the documentary, clearing Zimmerman and Howard. Sly said when secretly being videotaped that Zimmerman was one of his clients for performance-enhancing drugs, specifically, Delta-2, before recanting his statements in a YouTube video just prior to the “The Dark Side” airing. Zimmerman denied the accusation — saying he never met Sly — then filed suit, he explained, as backing to his words. According to court documents, Zimmerman’s lawyers also claim that Al Jazeera America was informed in writing prior to airing the broadcast that Sly’s statements were false. Being cleared by baseball is a significant step in Zimmerman’s mind.

“Obviously the MLB thing and the court case are two totally different things,” Zimmerman said. “The MLB thing, I think that was more important because that shows innocence for any wrongdoing or any obviously PED use or anything like that, which is kind of what people’s reputations are built on. The court case is more about freedom of speech, First Amendment stuff, which can be tricky when you have quote unquote a famous person involved. We’ll see what happens with it.

“But I think the whole point of the court case is nobody should be able to just throw people’s names around like that. Obviously, you should be able to at least back up what you’re saying, at least a little bit. I’m not saying nobody should report anything. I mean it’s hard for me to talk about much right now because still it’s an ongoing process.”

Both sides had previously agreed to stay the discovery process, which would be the most invasive part of the suit for Zimmerman. Should discovery proceed, Zimmerman’s personal correspondences will be looked into. He could also be deposed and subpoenas could be sent. Zimmerman said in February that his willingness to navigate the discovery process is another sign of his innocence.

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