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January 30, 2013

Judge Tosses Libel Suit Against St. Michael's Student Journos, but Former Candidate Appeals

John HaywoodLongshot presidential candidate John D. Haywood wanted $50 million in damages from St. Michael’s College and two student journalists who penned a candidate profile he claimed was libelous.

Instead, a judge has tossed out Haywood’s lawsuit and ordered him to reimburse the college and students for $23,336 they spent defending the lawsuit.

Haywood, who lives in Durham, N.C., sued the college and student journalists for libel last summer, claiming an article they wrote on him for a class project grossly mischaracterized his positions and was responsible for his loss to President Obama in the 2012 New Hampshire primary. Haywood (pictured) received just 432 votes, meaning he lost to Obama by a ratio of 115 to 1.

Haywood has reportedly paid the court-ordered sum, but he's not done with St. Michael's or the student reporters yet. He has appealed the decision to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit pro se, or without a lawyer's assistance.

In his 39-page decision, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Conroy said the student article was not libelous against Haywood. "The profile's overall tone is neither pejorative nor acrimonious," the judge wrote. "Indeed, in many cases the policy position described is simply a hair's breadth away from plaintiff's true position such that falsehood could not possibly be proven."

Conroy concluded that the student journalists had no motive to libel Haywood. "They had nothing to gain, and a grade to lose, by writing falsehoods," the judge wrote. Conroy wrote that Haywood failed to establish evidence that the students acted with malice, or indeed knew that anything they wrote was untrue.

The students penned the article for St. Michael's professor David Mindich's "Media and American Politics" class, which has been profiling lesser-known presidential candidates in every election since 2004. The goal is to give voice to all candidates. Haywood complained that students intentionally distorted his positions in the story, published on a college website 10 days before last January's primary, and said the errors cost him the White House.

Haywood previously said that "anyone who read their profile wouldn't touch my website with a 10-foot pole. Things they said about my positions are so extreme, so ridiculous."

Haywood also previously said he was seeking $50 million because that's the amount he would need to mount a credible campaign for president in 2016. A former Navy JAG Corps lawyer, Haywood hasn't practiced law since 1984 and is no longer a member of the bar. 

File photo by Andy Bromage 

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