Judge finds that Krawatsky’s defamation suit failed to prove malice


A judge has concluded that a defamation suit, filed by a Baltimore rabbi and his wife against New York Jewish Week and reporter Hannah Dreyfus, failed to prove actual malice.

(KvitaJan/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

In his 21-page opinion released July 8, Christopher C. Fogleman, associate judge of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County in Maryland, granted a summary judgment motion in favor of the newspaper and Dreyfus and against Rabbi Steven (Shmuel) Krawatsky and his wife. The case concerned the newspaper’s January 2018 reporting on alleged sexual abuse of boys by the rabbi while a counselor at Camp Shoresh in Frederick County.

As the opinion supporting the order for the summary judgment motion explains, “To recover for defamation by a public figure, a plaintiff must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that the statements in issue were defamatory in meaning, false, made with actual malice, and damages resulted.”

“Malice is not established if there is evidence to show that the publisher acted on a reasonable belief that the defamatory material was substantially correct and there was no evidence to impeach the publisher’s good faith,” the opinion further explains.

The motion for the summary judgment was filed in March of 2022. The intent of a summary judgment is to resolve a lawsuit before it goes to trial.

The Krawatsky allegations dated back to 2015 and centered around boys who were campers at Camp Shoresh, where the rabbi was then head of the lower boys’ division. The Jewish Week published its report in January 2018 after a lengthy investigation. Krawatsky was fired from Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School the next day, and Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim announced that Krawatsky had resigned from his position there as head of a teen inclusion minyan.

On Jan. 30, 2018, the Krawatskys filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit that included dozens of counts against the parents and a victim-advocate blogger, including defamation, invasion of privacy, interfering with Krawatsky’s ability to work and inflicting emotional distress. The lawsuit also requested an injunction to stop “defamatory and harassing actions” against Krawatsky, which were causing him to suffer “great” emotional distress and economic harm. The Krawatskys requested a jury trial.

That initial suit was dismissed in September 2018 because it was filed in federal court instead of state court. When the case was filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court on Oct. 16, 2018, it included two more defendants: New York Jewish Week and Dreyfus, the reporter who wrote the story.

The parents and other defendants countersued.

Christopher Rolle, who served as Krawatsky’s attorney in the case, did not respond to the JT’s request for comment.

Kai Falkenberg, former president of the board of the Jewish Week, acted as in-house counsel to the Jewish Week on the Krawatsky story, advised on its publication and defense in the litigation. She is now executive vice president and general counsel at G/O Media.

On July 8, Falkenberg posted a statement on LinkedIn about the ruling. Falkenberg pointed to their legal brief, which explained that “the First Amendment gives the press crucial ‘breathing space’ to be able to report on newsworthy [controversies like this one] without fear of liability, even when the facts reported [are] disputed.’ In ruling on The Jewish Week’s behalf, the judge determined that the rabbi was a limited public figure who failed to establish that the statements about him were made with actual malice. The opinion recounts the extensive reporting undertaken by our writer, Hannah Dreyfus, which supported her belief in the truth of the boys’ allegations.”

“This decision should buttress the resolve of editors and writers in Jewish journalism and beyond to continue to pursue and publish impactful stories like this one and not be intimidated by the threat of expensive and protracted litigation,” Falkenberg wrote.

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