Sarah Palin’s positive coronavirus tests have forced the postponement of a civil trial scheduled to begin Monday over her defamation claims against The New York Times.
U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said the trial could start on Feb. 3 if Palen has recovered sufficiently by then.
Palin, a former Republican vice presidential candidate, has previously had COVID-19. She has urged people not to get vaccinated, telling an Arizona audience last month that “it will be over my dead body that I have to get a shot.”
When Rakoff first announced early Monday that Palin had a positive result from an at-home test, he said, “Of course, she is unvaccinated.” He stated that he would postpone the trial until she completed a test on Monday morning. Her lawyer later reported that a rapid test on Monday morning came back positive.
“I’m going to assume she’s positive because she’s tested positive three times,” the judge said.
Rakoff stated that courthouse rules would allow her to return to court on Feb. 3 even if she still tested positive, as long as she is not experiencing any symptoms. If she does have symptoms, she can be examined on Feb. 2 by a doctor who works for the courts, he said.
Palin, 57, filed a lawsuit against the Times in 2017, claiming the paper harmed her reputation with an opinion piece written by its editorial board that falsely claimed her political rhetoric contributed to the 2011 shooting of then-Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords. The newspaper has admitted that the editorial’s initial wording was flawed, but not in an intentional or reckless manner that rendered it libelous.
Her case survived an initial dismissal that was overturned on appeal in 2019, setting the stage for a rare instance in which a major news organization will have to defend itself in a libel case involving a major public figure before a jury.
Palin is expected to be the star witness in the civil case, taking the stand to back up claims that the Times harmed her budding career as a political commentator. Messages left with her lawyers last week asking if and when she will testify went unanswered.
Palin sued the Times in 2017, citing an editorial about gun control published after Louisiana U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, also a Republican, was shot during a Congressional baseball team practice in Washington by a man with a history of anti-GOP activity.
Before the 2011 mass shooting that severely injured Giffords and killed six others, Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of electoral districts that depicted Giffords and 19 other Democrats as being in stylized crosshairs, according to the Times editorial.
The Times issued a correction two days later, stating that the editorial “incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting” and “incorrectly described” the map.
James Bennet, the editorial page editor at the time, had added the disputed wording to the editorial. A jury would have to decide whether he acted with “actual malice,” which means he knew what he wrote was false, or with “reckless disregard” for the truth at trial.
Bennet cited deadline pressures in pretrial testimony when explaining why he did not personally research the information about Palin’s political action committee before approving the editorial’s publication. He stated that when the editorial was published, he believed it to be accurate.