Don Blankenship’s Libel Lawsuit Against Donald Trump, Jr. Can Go Forward
Today’s decision in Blankenship v. Trump, by Judge John Copenhaver (S.D. W. Va.), deals with Donald Trump, Jr.’s Tweet that called Don Blankenship—who had been running in the Republican primary for a West Virginia Senate seat—a “felon.” (Blankenship alleges that the Trump team wanted their own preferred candidate to win the primary.) Blankenship had been convicted of a misdemeanor, but not a felony:
Following an explosion in a West Virginia mine on April 5, 2010, that resulted in the death of twenty-nine (29) miners, the United States government initiated an investigation into the cause of the explosion. While the plaintiff was not charged with the death of the miners or with causing the explosion, the government later charged the plaintiff with three felonies, including conspiracy to defraud the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, and one misdemeanor for conspiracy to violate federal mine safety laws. On December 3, 2015, a federal jury found the plaintiff not guilty of the felony charges but convicted him of the misdemeanor offense. The plaintiff was sentenced to one year in prison, which the plaintiff served and from which he was released in the spring of 2017.
The court denied Donald Trump, Jr.’s motion to dismiss, concluding that erroneously calling a misdemeanant a felon was potentially defamatory:
On the question of falsity[, “][West Virginia libel law] overlooks minor inaccuracies and concentrates upon substantial truth. Minor inaccu
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