Appeals Court Dismisses Libel Suit Against CNN
SAN JUAN – After ordering a mandatory settlement conference, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals has inexplicably dismissed a lawsuit filed by golfer Mark Burk against CNN in local federal court for libeling him in a report involving rape allegations against comedian Bill Cosby.
Last year, federal Judge Francisco Besosa dismissed the libel suit with prejudice contending the court had no jurisdiction to evaluate the case against CNN because it does not have local offices. Burk appealed the ruling.
Before ruling on the matter, the middle court told Burk he needed to have a lawyer to represent him in a mandatory settlement conference with CNN, since the golfer, who lives in Puerto Rico, had been representing himself. “Pursuant to the rules of the First Circuit Court of Appeals, we are not allowed to have a settlement conference where a ‘pro se’ litigant is involved,” the Circuit Court said.
Burk said he informed the Circuit Court of Appeals on March 4 that attorney Jean Paul Vissepó was going to represent him.
However, the middle court did not wait for the settlement conference to take place, and on March 8 denied a motion for oral arguments and dismissed the case.
“After careful de novo consideration of the parties’ brief and relevant portions of the record, we conclude for substantially the same reasons adopted by the district court that dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction and failure to state a claim was in order,” the Circuit Court says.
The three-judge panel also dismissed claims that Besosa may have abused his discretion after going into the merits of the case despite ruling it had no jurisdiction.
Burk, who had a reality show about his efforts to become a professional golf player while living on the streets, says he is going to appeal the decision.
Burk is an ex-boyfriend of former model Beverly Johnson, who last year accused comedian Bill Cosby of drugging her. Burk sued CNN for allegedly defaming him by saying untrue things about him to entertainment website TMZ in a letter that the digital magazine made public.
According to the lawsuit filed by Burk, Johnson was contacted by CNN for a special that focused on her accusations against Cosby. Johnson claims Cosby drugged her in the 1980s at his home in New York.
Cosby’s lawyer urged the network to interview Burk because he lived with Johnson for four years, and would say she only had praise for the comedian and never mentioned drugging allegations.
CNN sent a letter to Cosby’s lawyer saying Burk was a criminal with an ax to grind and lived with Johnson long after the incident in which she was allegedly drugged. The letter was made public by TMZ.
Burk sued CNN claiming the network gave TMZ the letter it sent to Cosby’s lawyer, attacking his credibility and that as a result his reputation has been damaged. Burk says he has no criminal record because a domestic violence charge levied by Johnson against him was dismissed and his record was expunged, or cleaned.
In the lawsuit, Burk said, “CNN is not a tabloid periodical ‘picking on the little guy.’ CNN is a giant that has absolutely ruined the reputation of one man.”
While the local federal court said it had no jurisdiction over CNN because it had no offices here, Burk said the federal court ignored evidence proving contacts in Puerto Rico. CNN’s Spanish network has more than 25 million viewers in Latin America and 7 percent are in Puerto Rico.
He also said the network gets money from contracts with Liberty Cable, DirecTV and Dish Network. The network’s sales executives have also said they have markets in Puerto Rico.
Meanwhile, Cosby, 78, was arrested in December 2015 and charged with sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004 in Pennsylvania.