1/17/2014 12:02:00 PM,
Jeff D. Gorman
(CN) - Two newspapers may have defamed a U.S. senatorial contender in reporting on his friendship with a drug-abusing Mike Tyson, a Florida appeals court ruled.
About three weeks before the 2010 Democratic primary election, the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times published three articles about a U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene.
Two of the articles dealt with Greene's alleged role in a 2006 condominium deal in California. The headlines were "Calif. Deal Put Jeff Greene on Front Line of Mortgage Mess" and "Jeff Greene's Real Estate Dealings Need Explaining."
Greene said the papers accused him of selling units at inflated prices and participating in criminal mortgage fraud.
The third article was titled "Jeff Greene's Yacht Holds the Secrets: Sexcapades or Sabbath?" in the Herald and "Jeff Greene Brushes Off Raucous Party Boat Tales" in the Times.
It discussed activities that allegedly took place on Greene's yacht, the Summerwind, involving Tyson, the former world heavyweight boxing champion. The article said Tyson was the best man at Greene's wedding and spent a summer "getting high" with "naked girls."
After the articles were published, Greene sought retractions from the papers, to no avail. He said he was not aware that Tyson was using illegal drugs at the time. Claiming that he paid for Tyson's rehabilitation when he did become aware, Greene said Tyson has acknowledged that Green's help prevented a possible fatal overdose.
Greene sued Times Publishing Co., Miami Herald Media Co. and three reporters for libel. He claimed that he was leading in the polls before the articles were published, and that he sunk to a double-digit deficit before losing the election, for which he alleged to have invested $24 million of his own money.
A judge in Miami ruled in favor of the defendants, but Greene's luck turned around Wednesday with the Florida's Third District Court of Appeals.
"We express no opinion regarding the accuracy of Greene's allegations and his ability to prove them," Judge Vance Salter wrote for a three-member panel. "We simply hold that, at the preliminary point of assessing the legal sufficiency of the complaint and attachments, Greene has adequately detailed a cause of action for libel as to each article and each defendant."
As to the property-linked articles, Salter found that "qualifying phrases like 'documents show' and 'the records show' that Greene made the sales to straw buyers do not remedy the fact that, according to the complaint, no such transactions occurred and Greene received no funds from any such sales of individual units."
Meanwhile the third article referred made "it clear that Greene was being accused of participating in, or at the very lease condoning, unlawful and immoral behavior" by including mentions of "a 'raucous party boat,' 'The Love Boat' and 'sexcapades,'" the panel found.