10:58, June 29 251 0 abajournal.com

2018-06-29 10:58:10
Suspect in Capital Gazette shooting lost pro se case; court said he misunderstood defamation law

A Maryland man who was a losing pro se plaintiff in a defamation suit against the Capital Gazette newspaper chain has been charged with five counts of murder in the Thursday shooting deaths of five newsroom employees.

Jarrod Ramos of Laurel is accused of firing a shotgun through the doors of the newsroom and opening fire on employees, killing two editors, a reporter, a community correspondent and a sales assistant, report the Washington Post and the Capital Gazette in stories here and here.

Ramos has a degree in computer engineering and he had worked for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, according to the article that sparked Ramos’ 2012 suit.

Ramos had sued the newspaper and its former editor and publisher over the July 2011 story by then-columnist Eric Hartley. The story headline was “Jarrod wants to be your friend.”

The article reported on Ramos’ guilty plea to a misdemeanor harassment charge that stemmed from his online contacts with a former high school classmate he connected with through Facebook. The woman had suggested a counseling center for Ramos because he was having problems.

That sparked emails in which Ramos called the woman vulgar names and told her to kill herself, the article reported. She believes she was laid off from her job because of an email and phone call to her employer from Ramos.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed dismissal of Ramos’ suit in September 2015, the Capital Gazette reported at the time. The opinion is here.

A judge who dismissed the case told Ramos “there is absolutely not one piece of evidence” of a false statement. The judge said he understands that Ramos’ feels the subject of newspaper articles should be placed in the best light, but it’s “simply not true” that he has that right.

The appeals court noted that Ramos was pro se and affirmed. The appeals court wrote:

“A discussion of defamation law would be an exercise in futility, because the appellant fails to come close to alleging a case of defamation. In his five-page brief, the appellant devotes two and one-half pages to legal argument. He never alleges that any basic fact contained in the article about his guilty plea is actually false. He claims only that ‘Hartley’s column fails the test of fairness because he editorialized on the story’s meaning.’ There is no allegation of any specific harm that he suffered as a result of the article. He simply described the harm as ‘incalculable, unforeseen, and potentially unknowable.’ That does not do it.

“The appellant is pro se. A lawyer would almost certainly have told him not to proceed with this case. It reveals a fundamental failure to understand what defamation law is and, more particularly, what defamation law is not. The appellant is aggrieved because the newspaper story about his guilty plea assumed that he was guilty and that the guilty plea was, therefore, properly accepted. He is aggrieved because the story was sympathetic toward the harassment victim and was not equally understanding of the harassment perpetrator. The appellant wanted equal coverage of his side of the story. He wanted a chance to put the victim in a bad light, in order to justify and explain why he did what he did. That, however, is not the function of defamation law.”

Ramos “is not entitled to equal sympathy with his victim and may not blithely dismiss her as a ‘bipolar drunkard.’ He does not appear to have learned his lesson,” the appeals court said.