ABA group will publish article calling Trump a 'libel bully'

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The ABA Forum on Communications Law will publish an article calling Donald Trump a “libel bully” despite reservations about partisan language cited by an ABA official.

In a statement on Friday, the ABA said the forum will publish the article next week.

“To be clear, the ABA did not refuse to publish the article,” the statement said. “After the article was first submitted for publication, ABA staff suggested some edits to the article that were in keeping with the ABA’s commitment to non-partisanship. The author did not discuss the editing suggestions with ABA staff and instead withdrew her article for publication.”

The author resubmitted her article to the forum and it was accepted, the ABA statement said.

ABA policy gives its entities the right to publish their newsletters without higher-level authorization, according to the statement. It adds that there has been “inaccurate media coverage” about the controversy.

Some media reports had claimed the ABA pulled the article because of a fear of being sued.

The article by First Amendment lawyer Susan Seager examines seven libel cases filed by Trump. Four were dismissed on the merits, two were voluntarily withdrawn, and one was a default win in an arbitration in which a former Miss Pennsylvania failed to appear.

Seager told the ABA Journal earlier this week that she believed an email expressing concerns by ABA deputy executive director James Dimos was a message that a battle over suggested edits had been lost.

In the email to a forum editor, James Dimos expressed concern about the “tone” of the article and included suggested edits. Dimos’ email also raised the possibility of a Trump lawsuit, though Dimos said he didn’t think such a suit would have merit.

Dimos’ suggestions had included cutting the first paragraph of the article, which read: “Donald J. Trump is a libel bully. Like most bullies, he’s also a loser, to borrow from Trump’s vocabulary.”

Dimos also suggested changing the article headline, which read “Donald J. Trump Is a Libel Bully but Also a Libel Loser.” Dimos suggested changing it to read “Presidential Election Demonstrates Need for Anti-Slapp Laws.” The reference was to laws that fight so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation. The laws allow early dismissal of libel suits and recovery of the defendant’s legal fees.

The ABA statement says the ABA has long-standing policy that encourages adoption of Anti-SLAPPlaws. “Hopefully, this matter will shine a light on the problem of frivolous lawsuits that turn the justice system into a weapon that has a chilling effect on free speech,” the statement said.

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