JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Pro golfer John Daly claimed a Florida newspaper libeled him in a column suggesting he failed “the scoundrel sniff test,” but a judge disagreed.
Duval County Circuit Judge Hugh Carithers dismissed Daly’s libel lawsuit Monday and granted the Florida Times-Union’s request for summary judgment. He ruled that former columnist Mike Freeman’s statements were either true or constitutionally protected opinion.
Daly had sued in 2005, alleging a column by Freeman written during The Player’s Championship that year defamed him.
Freeman’s column said: “How does Daly not fail the scoundrel sniff test with fans despite possessing definite Thug Life qualifications. Look at the Daly blog. Domestic violence accusations? Yup. Substance abuse issues? Unfortunately, three different kids from three different moms, making him the Shawn Kemp of golf? Yes. A former wife indicted for laundering illegal drug profits? Roger that.”
Carithers wrote in his opinion that the alleged defamatory statements were opinions based upon disclosed facts.
“The only possible basis for a defamation action would be if Daly proved that one of the four underlying facts was false, but there is no genuine dispute with respect to any of the underlying facts,” Carithers wrote.
The judge also cited constitutional protections against libel.
“Under the First Amendment, public figures in defamation lawsuits are required to prove actual malice by clear and convincing evidence,” Carithers wrote, adding, “there is no evidence of actual malice, much less ‘clear and convincing’ evidence.”
Times-Union Editor Frank Denton praised the judge for reinforcing the First Amendment and established law.
“This has been a long and unnecessary process, but in the end it supports the importance of a free and unfettered press,” Denton said.
Telephone messages left with Daly’s agent and attorney seeking comment were not immediately returned.