A Judge in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida has ruled that defamation claims brought against the Miami New Times by a friend of O.J. Simpson relating to an article linking him to Nicole Brown Simpson’s murder should be brought to trial. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jose Rodriguez denied the New Times’ Motion for Summary Judgment, finding that Plaintiff Charles Ehrlich is not a public figure, and that a jury could potentially find that the New Times acted maliciously when it published the article about Ehrlich.
The article, written by freelance writer Bob Norman, discusses a script circulating in Hollywood called “Juiced,” which links Ehrlich to the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson. According to the New Times article, in the script a character named Charlie is sent by his boss to collect cocaine debts (some of which are owed by Nicole Brown Simpson). The script allegedly portrays Charlie present in Simpson’s white Ford Bronco when Simpson drove to his ex-wife’s home. The article then links the Charlie character to Charles Ehrlich, who is a manager at a North Miami Beach strip club, and a longtime friend of O.J. Simpson.
Norman, in his deposition, stated that he “never believed” that Ehrlich was involved in the murders. However, Ehrlich claims that the article defamed him by linking him to the killings.
The New Times moved for summary judgment, arguing that Ehrlich is a “limited-purpose public figure” due to his media appearances after he was seen with Simpson in Las Vegas when Simpson was arrested for stealing sports memorabilia. A “limited-purpose public figure” is a person who is not a public figure in all aspects of their life, but has thrust themselves into a particular public controversy and, as a result, become a public figure for that limited purpose. Judge Rodriguez disagreed, and found that Ehrlich’s response to questions regarding the armed robbery did not make him a public figure with regard to the 1994 murders.
Judge Rodriguez denied the New Times’ request for summary judgment, holding that a jury could find that the article was published with reckless disregard for the truth. He pointed to Norman’s testimony that the “only source” he had on Ehrlich’s life was the script and said that the New Times’ admission of editorial control could also make the New Times liable.
Ehrlich’s lawyer, Robert Hantman, expressed satisfaction with the Court’s decision, stating that it was the correct one. An attorney for the New Times did not respond to a request for comment.
This case invigorates defamation laws with some teeth if a publication is reckless about badmouthing a private person.
Ehrlich is represented by Robert J. Hantman and Stanley Q. Casey of Hantman & Associates.
The New Times is represented by Scott D. Ponce and Benjamin A. Taormina of Holland & Knight LLP.
The case is Ehrlich v. Miami New Times LLC., case number 2021-025726-CA, in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida.
* Lowe & Associates (“The Firm”) is a boutique entertainment and business law firm located in Beverly Hills, California. The firm has extensive experience handling cases involving defamation, having provided top-quality legal services to its clients since 1991. The Firm is recognized for its many achievements, including successfully litigating many high-profile cases.