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Sarah Palin's positive COVID test forces postponement of New York Times defamation trial

Judge delays trial in Palin's lawsuit
Judge delays trial in Sarah Palin's lawsuit against New York Times after she tests positive for COVID-19 00:39

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's positive tests for the coronavirus have forced the postponement of a civil trial over her defamation claims against The New York Times.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said the trial, which was to begin Monday, can start February 3 if Palin has adequately recovered by then.

Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, has had COVID-19 before. She's urged people not to get vaccinated, telling an audience in Arizona last month that "it will be over my dead body that I'll have to get a shot."

When he first announced early Monday that Palin had tested positive with an at-home test, Rakoff said, "She is, of course, unvaccinated."

He said he would wait to postpone the trial until she completed a test Monday morning. Later, her lawyer reported that a rapid test Monday morning was also positive.

"Since she has tested positive three times, I'm going to assume she's positive," the judge said.

Rakoff said that courthouse rules would permit her to return to court February 3, even if she still tests positive, as long as she has no symptoms. If she does have symptoms, she can be looked at on February 2 by a doctor who provides services to the courts, he said.

Palin, 57, sued the Times in 2017, claiming the Times had damaged her reputation with an opinion piece penned by its editorial board that falsely asserted her political rhetoric helped incite the 2011 shooting of then-Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. The newspaper has conceded the initial wording of the editorial was flawed, but not in an intentional or reckless way that made it libelous.

Her case survived an initial dismissal that was reversed on appeal in 2019, setting the stage for a rare instance that a major news organization will have to defend itself before a jury in a libel case involving a major public figure.

It's presumed that Palin will be the star witness in the civil case, taking the stand to back up accusations that the Times should pay damages for hurting her budding career as a political commentator. There was no response to messages left last week with her lawyers asking if and when she will testify.

Palin sued the Times in 2017, citing the editorial about gun control published after Louisiana U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, also a Republican, was wounded when a man with a history of anti-GOP activity opened fire on a congressional baseball team practice in Washington.

In the editorial, the Times wrote that before the 2011 mass shooting that severely wounded Giffords and killed six others, Palin's political action committee had circulated a map of electoral districts that put Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized crosshairs.

In a correction two days later, The Times said the editorial had "incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting" and that it had "incorrectly described" the map.

The disputed wording had been added to the editorial by James Bennet, then the editorial page editor. At trial, a jury would have to decide whether he acted with "actual malice," meaning that he knew what he wrote was false, or with "reckless disregard" for the truth.

In pretrial testimony, Bennet cited deadline pressures as he explained that he did not personally research the information about Palin's political action committee before approving the editorial's publication. He said he believed the editorial was accurate when it was published.

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