Five years after the British press published defamatory accusations from a fabricated dossier about Legatum Founder and Chairman Christopher Chandler, a US federal court judge has determined that the accusations are entirely false. The ruling constitutes complete exoneration for Mr Chandler, as an independent US federal court ruled that the allegations of wrongdoing made by Donald Berlin against Mr Chandler were false, full stop. “Berlin simply drafted a report that was a wholesale fabrication,” the Court wrote.
The allegations originated from a self-proclaimed “private investigator” named Donald Berlin. Mr Chandler brought defamation proceedings against Berlin in Washington, D.C., and in September of last year, the US federal judge presiding over the case granted Mr Chandler’s Motion for Summary Judgment against Berlin, holding that the allegations were false and defamatory as a matter of law.
The importance of this ruling cannot be overstated. Falsity is almost never proven at the summary judgment stage of a defamation lawsuit in the US, as oftentimes, reasonable minds can differ on veracity, and many allegations exist in a grey area. But that was not the case here: the allegations were proven false and without merit, as a matter of law, and the Court held that no reasonable jury could ever find that the allegations were true. In its ruling, the Court pointed to definitive evidence including from public prosecutors as well as Mr Chandler’s passport records, which clearly demonstrated that Mr Chandler was not involved in any way in the various wrongdoings that had been alleged by Berlin.
Mr Chandler’s case is one of only a handful of defamation cases in the past 20-plus years where falsity has been adjudicated by the Court ahead of the jury trial. The fact that there was such a high and difficult bar to clear highlights the overwhelming strength of the evidence against the allegations and how demonstrably false they were. The ruling is watershed caselaw that will shape the fight to protect the rights of individuals to defend their reputations against false allegations.
Mr. Chandler said, “I am grateful that the Court conclusively found that the allegations made against me were totally false and a wholesale fabrication. We knew and maintained the truth all along, so it is gratifying to see a federal court agree so decisively.”
A Washington, D.C. jury will decide in July whether Berlin acted with the requisite level of fault in making his false accusations and, if so, the quantum of damages to which Mr Chandler is entitled.