In a court opinion yesterday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Shaniek M. Maynard recommended that Florida's Southern District Court order Bongino to pay the fees, finding that his claim against the Daily Beast was without merit. (The court's recommendation was first reported by Mediaite.)
Bongino, a right-wing political pundit and former congressional candidate in Fort Myers, sued the Daily Beast in December 2019, alleging defamation and deceptive practices after the site published an article about his departure from NRATV, the media arm of the National Rifle Association.
The story, titled "Dan Bongino Out at NRATV" and written by then-Daily Beast reporter Lachlan Markay, stated that Bongino's show, We Stand, was being dropped from the network owing to corporate downsizing. In his initial complaint, Bongino asked for "compensatory damages and punitive damages in a sum not less than $15,000,000."
Bongino did not, however, explain how the article was defamatory under the law. Bongino's show had in fact been dropped, and NRATV even released a statement after Markay's story was published, stating that it had made every effort to retain Bongino and would miss him.
Bongino also failed to provide the news outlet with written notice of his intent to sue at least five days before filing the suit — a requirement under Florida law.
He ultimately moved to dismiss his own case last August, whereupon the Daily Beast asked the court to compel Bongino to pay $31,835 for its attorneys' fees, citing a Florida statute that protects First Amendment speech.
Florida's anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation law, also known as the anti-SLAPP provision, is meant to protect individuals and news outlets against frivolous lawsuits from people trying to silence opponents and public discourse. Under the anti-SLAPP statute, defendants can seek attorneys' fees if they prevail in a defamation suit found to be meritless.
Bongino's lawyers argued that the court had no jurisdiction to decide whether Bongino owed fees because the case was dismissed and that he was not liable under anti-SLAPP because there was no prevailing party.
U.S. District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez referred the case to Maynard for review last October; yesterday, Maynard recommended the court rule in favor of the Daily Beast.
"Judge Martinez concluded that Plaintiff's suit is 'without merit' because Plaintiff [Bongino] failed to state a claim for defamation, and it arises out of 'free speech in connection with a public issue' because it involves a news report on a public figure. As a result, Defendant [Daily Beast] is the 'prevailing party,'" Maynard wrote.
Bongino's camp now has 14 days to respond with any objections before Martinez makes a final ruling.
This case is the latest financial blow to Bongino, who last July bought an ownership stake in the conservative social-media site Parler, which was removed from Google's and Apple's app stores last month after the tech companies claimed the site was not properly policing violent and inflammatory speech.
Attorneys for Bongino and the Daily Beast did not respond to requests for comment from New Times yesterday.
But the author of the story at the center of the lawsuit wasn't shy about sharing his satisfaction with Judge Maynard's recommendation, retweeting a reference to the finding with the comment, "Just immensely satisfying."
Just immensely satisfying https://t.co/C7ev4jXInC— Lachlan Markay (@lachlan) February 9, 2021