A Maryland judge ruled Friday that first lady Melania Trump’s libel suit against a political blogger can go forward, rejecting the blogger’s argument that her action was brought in bad faith as an effort to curb his right to free speech.
The ruling paves the way for Trump to pursue defamation claims against Webster Griffin Tarpley in Montgomery County Circuit Court. Tarpley, who publishes Tarpley.net from his townhouse in Gaithersburg, wrote last summer that Trump was “reportedly obsessed by fear” over possible revelations that she allegedly once worked as a high-end escort, according to court records.
Soon afterward, he retracted the story and apologized for any duress the story may have caused.
Trump has filed similar libel claims in Montgomery against the online publication of Britain’s Daily Mail. Circuit Court Judge Sharon Burrell heard arguments related to that suit as well but said she would rule later on those matters.
Trump did not attend Friday’s hearing.
Her attorneys have said the escort-related stories on Tarpley.net and in the Daily Mail were false and “tremendously damaging” to her personal and professional reputation. A trial, if necessary, is set for Nov. 6
Tarpley has said he did not libel Trump and was passing on “unfounded rumors and innuendo” that had appeared on the Internet, according to court records.
In suing the Daily Mail, Trump’s attorneys sued an entity called Mail Media Inc., which Trump’s team describes as the publisher of www.dailymail.com, where the Daily Mail article in dispute appeared.
Mail Media, in court filings, has responded that the article was acceptable because it “discussed allegations that had been disseminated about the then-potential first lady, and the impact even false rumors could have on the presidential race.”
In September, after its story ran, the Daily Mail published a retraction.
Mail Media also asserts that it is not the publisher of the Daily Mail website and that the publisher is another entity, the British-based Associated Newspapers Ltd., which also publishes the Daily Mail tabloid newspaper, according to court records. Mail Media also says that because it is based in New York, the Maryland filing is not proper.
The issues of corporate definitions and jurisdiction were among those the judge said she would rule on later.
In court filings, Trump’s attorneys cite several reasons that Montgomery is an appropriate venue for the lawsuit: Tarpley lives in the county; the Daily Mail website — by virtue of all its readers in Maryland — does business in the state; and for simplicity’s sake, it’s best to try the whole case in the same courtroom.
At a previous hearing in the case — a routine scheduling conference on Dec. 12 — Trump accompanied her attorneys. That appearance, which sent the county courthouse abuzz, was noteworthy because in the early stages of such lawsuits, the actual litigants often don’t appear in court.
Trump was at the December proceeding “to meet the judge, meet opposing counsel and show her commitment to the case,” her attorney, Charles J. Harder, said at the time.