Sunday, January 26, 2014

Courtney Love Wins Defense Verdict in Twibel Suit by Her Former Lawyer

What do you get when you Tweet a purported libelous statement?  Twibel, of course.

Last week rock star Courtney Love went to trial last week in one of the nation's first, and certainly most publicized, case of libel over Twitter.  She was accused of defaming her own lawyer in a series of 2010 tweets.

After only three hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict for Love and against the plaintiff, her former lawyer Rhonda J. Holmes.  The lawyer had been hired to pursue fraud claims against those handling the estate of Love's late husband, Kurt Cobain, the legendary lead singer of Nivana who committed suicide.  But Ms. Love posted a series of tweets inferring implying that Ms. Holmes mishandled the matter.

The problem with attacking a lawyer on Twitter -- lawyers know the way to the courthouse.

The jury concluded that Ms. Love made the Tweets, but that the plaintiff failed to prove that Love knew the statements were false by the enhanced clear and convincing standard, a necessary element in a lawsuit by a limited purpose public figure such as Ms. Holmes.

No word yet on whether there will be an appeal.

Love is not a stranger to being sued for Tweets.  In March, 2011 she settled a defamation lawsuit by fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir for $430,000 stemming from tweets that accused the designer of theft and having a criminal background.

photo credit: <a href=""></a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Friday, January 24, 2014

Writing Blog Can Get You Thrown in Jail -- At Least in Alabama

Alabama blogger Roger Shuler has been sitting in the Shelby County, Alabama Jail for five
months -- for blogging.  According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, he is the only person in the Western Hemisphere imprisoned for something he has written.

Now Mr. Shuler isn't your ordinary blogger.  He has repeatedly been involved in legal battles and sued for defamation since he started his blog in 2007.  Initially the blog was an outlet for a property dispute with his neighbor.  Mr. Shuler ended up on the short end of the case, and the neighbor's lawyer now owns half of Mr. Shuler's home.

Shuler continued to rant against courts, the police and a variety of public officials, including Alabama Governor Bob Riley. Example: writing that a sitting federal judge appeared in a gay pornographic magazine. Class guy, this Mr. Shuler.

He has repetitively been sued for his blog posts, often successfully.  The judgments against him have taken their financial toll, to the point where he no longer can afford internet service and now posts from public computers in public libraries. But he continues undeterred.

Fast forward to an article Shuler posted claiming that the governor's son, Robert Riley Jr., got aptly named lobbyist Liberty Duke pregnant and paid for an abortion.  Riley and Duke not only denied the pregnancy and abortion, they denied they had ever been alone together in the same room.

Here's were things get really interesting -- and according to many First Amendment scholars and lawyers -- a bit out of hand.  State District Judge Robert Jackson issues an injunction against Shuler prohibiting him from making anymore "defamatory statements" about Mr. Riley and Ms. Duke.

First Amendment experts are unanimous that the order was unconstitutional and a violation of Mr. Shuler's First Amendment rights.

Ignoring the games Mr. Shuler played trying to avoid service of the order, Mr. Shuler continued to   publish venomous posts about the pair. 

The result:  Judge Jackson held Shuler in contempt and ordered him jailed.

That was in October.  And Mr. Shuler is still there.

Clearly Mr. Shuler is not the good guy here.  He has abused his rights.  He has defamed people causing them personal pain and suffering all for his own small-minded baseless vendettas.  But on the other hand, he is in jail because of an unconstitutional judicial order prohibiting free speech.

It's all ugly, and shows no signs of getting resolved.  And meanwhile, Mr. Shuler sits in a United States jail for what he wrote.

photo credit: <a href="">Still Burning</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Blogger's First Amendment Rights Upheld

Bloggers can rest easier as they post articles from their computers.  They have equal First Amendment rights with trained journalists.

That was the recent decision of the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a defamation lawsuit brought against a blogger in California.  The decision went even further, confirming that First Amendment rights are applicable to everyone, and that everyday citizens and Pulitizer Prize-winning journalists journalists all possess the same rights under the First Amendment.

The unanimous 9th Circuit decision reversed a $2.5 million judgment against blogger Crystal Cox by Obsidian Finance Group and its co-founder Kevin Padrick.  The verdict followed a nearly inexplicable District Court opinion allowing the case to go to trial on the basis that Ms Cox could not produce evidence that he was a trained journalists engaged in that profession, that he could not claim the First Amendment protection of the New York Times v. Sullivan case. 

For the decision in Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox, CLICK HERE.

For most First Amendment lawyers, the surprise was not the 9th Circuit's reversal, but the District Court's original decision, which seemed to go against a half-century of law to the contrary, although seldom applied to the new technology of blogging.

The lawsuit arose from a post by Ms Cox accusing Obsidian and Padrick of tax fraud in the handing of a company that was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. 

The 9th Circuit covers most of the western-most United States, including California.  The United States Circuit Courts of Appeal are the second highest federal courts, next to the US Supreme Court.

photo credit: <a href="">Mike Licht,</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>