In situations where a person feels that another has attacked their credibility as a professional, most states provide the option to sue that person for libel or defamation of character. Some states limit the ability to charge a person for criminal defamation of character but still preserve the civil outlet for libel. In the situation of criminal defamation of character, many states have brought up the problem that exists between this charge as a criminal offense and the protections of free speech provided by the United States Constitution. It is just this issue that has caused many states to eliminate criminal defamation of character from their legal statutes by reason of unconstitutionality. However, there have still been cases that have caused people to suffer from personal injury related to this offense.
There was one case in Georgia in 2008, where a woman went to a rural county to file a charge of criminal defamation of character against another woman. The complaint involved the father of the woman’s child. The wife of the child’s father had posted on her “My Space” computer networking page that the woman was a whore and her child was a bastard. Her contentions were based on the fact that the woman had had sexual relations with the wife’s husband shortly before he left to serve in the United States military. The result of that union was the woman’s child who was technically speaking the bastard child of the married man. The sheriff’s department investigator who spoke to the woman stated that he was not very familiar with computer “stuff” so he arranged a conference with an assistant district attorney for that county. The assistant district attorney advised the man to charge the wife with criminal defamation of character.
Apparently, that assistant district attorney was not aware that Georgia had determined that criminal defamation of character had been ruled unconstitutional in that state in 1987. When the woman was arrested, she was taken before the county judge. That judge ordered the woman to pay a fine and delete all negative comments about the other woman from her networking page. She was ordered not to put any other negative comments about the woman or her child on the page. The wife went home and took off the previous comments from her page but added a new one. This time the judge ordered her arrested for contempt of court and placed in jail. The wife spent almost one year in jail. At which point she lost her residence, her child was placed in foster care, she lost her job, and her vehicle. It was only at that point that the woman was encouraged to hire a defense attorney. This attorney immediately filed papers to have the wife released from jail since she had been incarcerated illegally. He confronted the judge who had incarcerated the woman and asked him how he had managed to find a woman guilty and sentence her to jail for a crime that had been ruled unconstitutional more than ten years earlier. The judge’s comment was that no one had told him that the charge was unconstitutional. This woman was released and has filed a personal injury and false imprisonment suit against this judge, the district attorney, and the police department of the Georgia County to recover punitive damages. In this case, it was clear that the comments of the wife were made with malice, however, her comments fell under freedom of speech. The reason that they fell under freedom of speech was because anyone reading the comment that was posted would clearly know that the comment was the woman’s own opinion and not a legally proven fact. Any comments that referred to the child of the illicit affair as a bastard were not credited as being defamatory because the definition of a bastard is a child that is born out of wedlock. That made that particular statement a factual statement and not one that could be considered defamatory.
In New York, a person who aims to file a libel or defamation of character lawsuit, must also prove that the comments were made in malice. One case that exemplifies this fact is one that involved a female personal injury attorney who gave a letter of resignation to the firm that employed her.
Her letter of resignation stated that her reason for resigning was based on the fact that she believed that she would soon be called to testify against the firm. She stated that she had knowledge that the firm was about to be disciplined by the legal disciplinary committee. In fact, she knew this because she was the one who filed the complaint against them for unethical conduct. When she left the firm, several clients decided to leave with her. What followed was a long term argument between this attorney and the firm that had employed her.
The firm was angry because they claimed that the attorney had stolen clients and client files from the firm and that she owed them money for the work that they had done on those cases before she stole the clients from them. In that anger, the lead partner of the firm sent letters to each of the clients that had left. In these letters, he claimed that the attorney was inexperienced and inept. He stated that she had not won any cases since she had become an attorney and that he was only concerned with the status of the client’s case. He stated that the client would not be able to recover damages from their cases until he had received his share and that it was because he had put a lien on the attorney’s income. He also stated in the letters that he had won multiple cases just like the ones that the client’s had for millions of dollars and that the attorney who left his firm could not say the same thing. He stated that since she had just opened up her own firm, she had no money to even pay her secretary for her to answer the phones. The letters were clearly written with malice and an intent to damage the business relationship that the attorney had with these clients.
The attorney filed a lawsuit against the firm for defamation of character based on these letters. Her contention being that the statements that were made against her in the letters were false and that the claims that the firm made about their achievements were inflated. The original trial court agreed with her and found in her favor. However, the firm appealed the finding to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed with some of the charges and dismissed others. The ultimate discussion was about the relevance of the mutual interest exception to libel cases. The court determined that a mutual interest exception did not relate to this particular case because the firm did not actually hold a mutual interest with the client who had not solicited any advice from the firm.
At Stephen Bilkis & Associates with its spinal injury Lawyers, have convenient offices throughout New York and Metropolitan area. Our business lawyers can provide you with advice to guide you through difficult situations. Without a defamation of character Lawyer, you could lose precious compensation to help your family.