An Orange County Superior Court Judge rejected a request Wednesday by the Little Saigon newspaper Saigon Nho for a new jury trial in a defamation case that resulted in a $4.5 million judgment for a rival newspaper.
In December, a twelve person jury awarded the Vietnamese language newspaper Nguoi Viet Daily News a $4.5 million judgment against Saigon Nho and its publisher, Hoang Duoc Thao, for defamatory statements about their CEO and marketing director, published in July and August 2012 articles by Thao.
Writing under the pseudonym Dao Nuong, Thao called Vinh Hoang, the marketing director, “mentally defective and known to have many scandalous affairs,” according to a translation provided in court documents.
Thao also insinuated that Dat Huy Phan, the paper’s CEO, was an agent for the Vietnam’s Communist government and claimed the communists are the true owner of the newspaper.
In addition to $3 million in actual damages related to harm to Nguoi Viet’s reputation, Saigon Nho must also pay $1.5 million for punitive damages — meant to discourage such conduct from occurring again.
Judge Frederick P. Horn’s decision to uphold the jury ruling means Thao will likely file an appeal within the next thirty days.
Aaron Morris, the attorney representing Thao and her newspaper, argued in his brief that the statements in question are not defamatory, but matters of opinion.
Although the jury agreed with the argument by Nguoi Viet’s attorneys that charges of communism are “libelous on its face,” Morris cited other cases in which attorneys have argued that while calling someone communist 30 or 40 years ago may have been defamatory, it isn’t today.
Morris’ brief goes on to argue: “‘While the word ‘communist has some real sting in the Vietnamese community in Orange County California,’ such regional densities do not render charges of communism defamatory.”
Morris also questioned whether the jury could award actual damages based on harm to the paper’s reputation, calling it speculative and imprecise.