Brazilian journalist is ordered to pay damages to Supreme Court minister over passages in book

Brazil's Superior Court of Justice (STJ) has ordered the journalist Rubens Valente to pay compensation for moral damages to Federal Supreme Court (STF) Minister Gilmar Mendes for references to him in the book “Operação Banqueiro,” published in 2014.

The book is a report about the operation that investigated banker Daniel Dantas, who was arrested in 2008 after being accused of corruption and bribery and released a few days later upon Mendes’ decision, then-president of the STF, the country's highest court.

Soon after the publication of the book, the minister filed a lawsuit against Valente, Folha de S. Paulo reporter, and publishing company Geração Editorial, claiming that the book was written with "a manifestly defamatory and outrageous intent" against his dignity, as reported by Portal Imprensa at the time. Mendes requested compensation of R$200,000 (about US $54,000) and that both the sentence handed down and the initial petition be published in future editions of the book and in a major circulation magazine.

O ministro do STF Gilmar Mendes, que teve ganho de causa no STJ em processo contra o jornalista Rubens Valente. (Foto: Nelson Jr./SCO/STF)  

Brazil's Federal Supreme Court (STF) Minister Gilmar Mendes. (Photo: Nelson Jr./SCO/STF)  

In 2015, the request was denied in the first instance. Valente told Folha that the judge who acquitted him concluded that "in the whole book, there was no offense or curse against the STF minister." "The judge also confirmed that I tried, for several months, to listen to the minister for the book, but he refused to receive me," he said.

Mendes appealed the first decision and in September 2016 the Federal District and Territorial Court (TJDFT) ordered Valente and the publisher to pay him R $60,000 (about US $16,150), as Conjur reported at the time.

Both Valente and the publisher, as well as the minister, appealed to the STJ, which on Feb. 12 decided to uphold the TJDFT's conviction and ordered that the full text of the court decision favorable to Mendes be included in the forthcoming editions of the book, Folha reported.

"I consider the decisions of the TJDF and the STJ serious precedents against freedom of expression, press and opinion," Valente wrote in a post on the book’s page on Facebook. "The TJDF's decision says that our book has affected the image and honor of Gilmar Mendes even though I have made no formal error and written no bad words against him in the book. Have you ever wondered how many journalists and authors could be condemned with these same presumptions?" he questioned. He also stated that he will appeal the decision to the Federal Supreme Court.

In another post, Valente presents Mendes' allegations about the book along with excerpts from the work and excerpts from the vote of the rapporteur of the case in the TJDFT, questioning the conclusions presented by the rapporteur.

The journalist also maintains that the rapporteur for the case in the TJDFT, Hector Valverde Santana, maintained a professional relationship with the Brazilian Institute of Public Law (IDP), of which Mendes is a founding member, and that the rapporteur in the STJ, Minister Marco Aurélio Bellizze, signed a personal manifesto in defense of Mendes and against criticism of his performance, and therefore they should have refused to act in the case.

In response, Minister Bellizze's office told the Knight Center that "none of the causes of impediment or suspicion provided for in Articles 144 and 145 of the Code of Civil Procedure were present in the case res judicata." The articles indicate when a judge should recuse themselves from a case. The press office of the TJDFT stated that "the matter in question was decided judicially and therefore there is nothing to comment on.”

It is not the first time that Mendes, who has been minister of the STF since 2002, has sued a journalist. According to a report by Nexo, Mendes "usually responds with legal action to mentions of his name that he considers offensive." In addition to Valente, the minister has already sued journalists Paulo Henrique Amorim and Luís Nassif, as well as professor of the University of São Paulo (USP) Clóvis de Barros Filho, former presidential candidate Guilherme Boulos (PSOL), actress Monica Iozzi and, on two occasions, the actor José de Abreu.

The Knight Center contacted Rubens Valente and Gilmar Mendes, but received no answers as of the publication of this article.

More Articles