Coverage of a lawsuit filed by real estate developer giant The Related Group against Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff has me scratching my head.
The lawsuit revolves around a memorandum written by Sarnoff in May of this year which he allegedly deployed as part of a smear campaign to sink a controversial Coconut Grove condo project by Related. Sarnoff takes the position that the memo was solely a “memory aid” to record a conversation with an unnamed former public official, and he is thus resisting Related’s effort to compel public disclosure of the memo.
At the same time, however, Sarnoff’s attorney is quoted by the Miami Herald as saying that Related is “trying to chill Marc’s public discourse” through the lawsuit. This is an odd statement which appears to undermine the position that the memo was solely for Sarnoff’s private consumption. Moreover, Florida law (like most jurisdictions) contains a rather broad defense to defamation based upon statements which are made by public officials in the course of executing their public duties. From the standpoint of the defamation claim, then, wouldn’t it be better for Sarnoff simply to release the memo to the public and claim immunity from defamation based on its preparation in the course of Sarnoff’s executing his duties as city commissioner?
Of course, I pose the foregoing question with the caveat that I know nothing of the contents of the memo itself, but in any event, Sarnoff’s legal defense should probably be more consistent with his public relations response.