When I first saw Saturday’s item in the New York Daily News regarding a 13-year-old legal document filed in a case involving Peyton Manning, I’d never heard of Shaun King.
Well, actually, I had. I personally know Shaun King, the former football player. He’s the gregarious analyst who was a member of the original Pro Football Talk on NBCSN family, who also tells a hilarious story about once trying to confront former NFL safety Rodney Harrison after Harrison applied a hard hit former Cardinals quarterback Josh McCown when King was the backup in Arizona. Harrison said to King, “Shut up. You can’t even beat out that bum.”
I didn’t know anything about the other Shaun King, the one who writes for the Daily News and whose item regarding Manning would be blamed on the other Shaun King, with his Twitter timeline littered with attacks and ridicule. The other Shaun King presented a one-sided summary of a 74-page document filed by Jamie Naughright’s lawyers in the case against Manning, with no balance or objectivity or apparent effort to contact Peyton Manning or Archie Manning for a response.
On Monday, after being fairly and extensively criticized for essentially taking a piece of advocacy and assuming that everything in it was completely true, King has published a highly defensive follow-up to his original item in which he claims that the characterization of his work as “one-sided” is an “egregious misrepresentation of what we released,” and that “it causes me to sincerely question the motives of anyone who says such a thing.”
Frankly, King’s second column causes me to sincerely question the intelligence or motives of King, and of his editors.
The best evidence of King’s failure to understand the legal process or deliberate disregard of it in his latest #longread on the matter comes from the portion of the article in which he bastardizes a snippet of a ruling from Judge Harvey A. Kornstein denying an effort by Peyton and Archie Manning to dismiss the defamation lawsuit filed by Naughright.
Here’s what Judge Kornstein wrote, as quoted by King: “Even if the plaintiff is a public figure, the evidence of record contains sufficient evidence to satisfy the court that a genuine issue of material fact exists that would allow a jury to find, by clear and convincing evidence, the existence of actual malice of the part of the defendants. Specifically, there is evidence of record, substantial enough to suggest that the defendants knew that the passages [from the book Manning] in question were false, or acted in reckless disregard of their falsity. There is evidence of record to suggest that there were obvious reasons to doubt the veracity of Peyton Manning’s account of the incident in question. The court further finds that there is sufficient evidence to permit the conclusion that the defendants entertained serious doubts as to the truth of the passages in this case.”
King incorrectly interprets those words to mean that Judge Kornstein actually and affirmatively found that clear and convincing evidence of malice on the part of the Mannings exists. “Judge Harvey Kornstein did not arrive at his conclusion that ‘clear and convincing’ evidence of malice existed because one woman said it did, but because overwhelming evidence proved such a thing,” King writes. However, that’s NOT what Judge Kornstein found.
Judge Kornstein found that “the evidence of record contains sufficient evidence to satisfy the court that a genuine issue of material fact exists that would allow a jury to find, by clear and convincing evidence, the existence of actual malice of the part of the defendants.” In English, this means that Judge Kornstein believed there was enough evidence to permit a jury of reasonable people to find that the Mannings acted with malice toward Naughright, a key ingredient in a defamation case against a public figure (if Naughright were deemed to be a public figure in her defamation case against the Mannings).
This is one of those moments where I remember how inadequate I felt when getting into this business because I had no journalistic training (and it showed), and how I later wondered how inadequate I would feel in this business if I had no legal training. King and his editors either have no legal training, no access to a lawyer, or no sensitivity to when a lawyer needs to be consulted for explanation or elaboration. Judge Kornstein’s words mean only that a jury could have found that the Mannings acted with malice, not that they definitely did. If Judge Kornstein believed the Manning definitely acted with malice and that no reasonable jury could have found otherwise, he would have entered what lawyers call “summary judgment” in Naughright’s favor on that point.
King’s loud insistence that Judge Kornstein actually and affirmatively found “clear and convincing evidence” of malice isn’t surprising, since it props up the flawed assessment of the document that King crafted on Saturday, and on which King has now doubled down. He has taken the criticism directed at him very personally (which is always a mistake), and he is now desperately groping for a silver bullet to prove that anyone who would question his work or his motives should have their own work or motives questioned.
To the trained eye, King’s work and motives should be questioned, and his failure (accidental or deliberate) to understand that key passage from Judge Kornstein’s ruling proves it not just with clear and convincing evidence, but beyond any and all doubt.
As to the rest of the latest article, King continues to erroneously blurs the line between allegation and proven, undeniable fact. Just because something is presented by one party to a lawsuit as factual doesn’t mean it actually happened. All evidence in a disputed case must be vetted through the judicial process, culminating in a jury hearing conflicting evidence and making decisions. That never happened in this case, because the case settled.
Because Naughright and the Mannings chose to settle the case, no one knows what actually happened because a jury never heard the evidence, sorted and sifted through it, and reached a conclusion. The document on which King’s column was based was cobbled together by lawyers with a sworn duty to zealously represent Naughright. They wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t put together something that appeared to be compelling on the surface.
The real question is how those allegations hold up when the surface is scratched by the opposing lawyers and, ultimately, a jury. No one knows what would have happened in this case because the parties eventually decided to wrap up the case and move on with their lives, which the vast majority of litigants in civil cases eventually do.