July 26, 2012The fat lady has finally sung.
We reported a little over a month ago that on June 19 the North Carolina Court of Appeals released its unanimous opinion upholding the summary judgment dismissing the defamation lawsuit by Greensboro Police Capt. Brian James and Officer Julius Fulmore against The Rhino Times.
The plaintiffs had 35 days to file a request for the North Carolina Supreme Court to hear an appeal, in legal terms to file a petition for discretionary review. The deadline for filing that request was Tuesday, July 24, and according to the clerks at the North Carolina Supreme Court nothing has been filed. They said that if anything were to be filed it would not be "timely." Which is evidently a legal term meaning it would be thrown out.
The lawsuit was filed in November 2007 and has slowly been working its way through the courts. The suit was filed against The Rhino Times, Jerry Bledsoe, John Hammer and William Hammer for 23 statements in the 92-part Cops in Black & White series by Bledsoe, and one statement in a column by John Hammer.
The Rhino Times was represented by Seth Cohen of Smith, James, Rowlett & Cohen. And although the case dragged on for almost five years, Cohen won every time we went to court. It was an unusual case in many respects, with a trip to the Court of Appeals and testimony in court before discovery.
On Wednesday, July 25, Cohen said, "We are thrilled that this case is finally over after nearly five years. The fact that The Rhino Times never lost one motion in the trial court and won two cases at the Court of Appeals fully vindicates Jerry Bledsoe, John Hammer and the newspaper. It is a much deserved victory for hard hitting investigative journalism."
In March 2011, North Carolina Superior Court Judge Edgar B. Gregory granted a request for summary judgment, which means that in considering the evidence in the most favorable light for the plantiffs, a reasonable jury could not decide in their favor, or, in other words, the plaintiffs don't have a winnable case.
The decision from the Court of Appeals was a strongly worded 33-page unpublished opinion that noted aspects of the case frequently mentioned in The Rhino Times, like the fact that I did not write the statement for which I was being sued and it never appeared in The Rhino Times. The plaintiffs had inserted their names into a statement I did write and claimed that I wrote the statement about them. It seemed strange to me and to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals opinion states, "the plaintiffs claim that the reference to "police officer' in the statement implicates them, but this is incorrect." We thought it was incorrect but it is nice to have three North Carolina Court of Appeals judges agree.
And it's very nice to have the case end.