A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: Defamation

The Definition of Chutzpah?

Brian Holloway Trashed House

By Zachary Edelman

The prospect of having a second, third or fourth home is alien to many of us on tight budgets. But get this, there are gorgeous mansions sitting on acres upon acres of land all across the country that sit furnished, vacant and vulnerable for months of the year.

Some teenagers must have wondered what it would be like see life as Jay Gatsby, even if just for a few hours, because on August 31 former NFL Lineman Brian Holloway, who was at his home in Lutz, Florida, was alerted to a party going on at his rural vacation home in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains. And what a party it was. Walls inside the house were spray-painted, the floor was peed on, furniture was broken and personal possessions were stolen, causing up to $40,000 in damages.

For a country outraged over revelations that the NSA tracks our every move, we sure don’t make it difficult for the government (or anyone else) to see exactly what we are up to; we broadcast to the world our every moment via one social media site or another. The teens who ransacked Mr. Holloway’s home were no different, taking and posting and tweeting and Instagram-ing dozens of photos of themselves cavorting and drinking and drugging inside Mr. Holloway’s (extra) house.

Mr. Holloway was angry, as any homeowner in his situation would be, and created a website aggregating all the evidence of revelry that evening adding the partiers names to the tweets and pictures. Mr. Holloway, who has worked with the substance abuse prevention program D.A.R.E., lists one main objective on his website– to turn the incident into a force for good by allowing the still impressionable youths to redeem themselves and reject the path of drinking, drugs, crime and violence.

Mr. Holloway must have suffered a concussion or two during his NFL career, because he is delusional if he thinks teenagers who break into a vacant house to party are going to change their ways as the result of a website. His invitation to the hellions to help him clean his house fell on mostly deaf ears; only five teens — of nearly 300 –showed up to help him clean the mess.

If you’re thinking the kids didn’t show up because they were grounded, think again. In fact, their parents are mad – even livid. But not at them. At Mr. Holloway. The indignant parents have threatened to hurt Mr. Holloway; at the very least, they are threatening to sue. (Some people might call this the very definition of “chutzpah”). Reposting the photos and identifying the culprits, they say, could “ruin their kids’ college plans.”

Lots of reports out there, but no analysis of the merits of the potential lawsuits against Mr. Holloway.  LASIS investigates.

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Ahmadinejad v. ‘Argo’

Argo

By Meghan Lalonde

Millions of people may have flocked to theaters around the world to see “Argo” – this year’s Academy Award-winning Best Picture, directed by Ben Affleck – but Iran’s leaders weren’t nearly as entertained.

Iranian officials have called the award-winning film “part of an Iranophobic movement” in Hollywood. To counter what they see as anti-Iranian propaganda, Iran plans to fund a cinematic response to “Argo” about revolutionaries who help American hostages and return them to U.S. authorities.

But retribution on the silver screen isn’t satisfying enough for some. Press TV, an Iranian media network, recently announced that officials have consulted with renowned French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre about a possible lawsuit against the creators and producers of Anti-Iranian films. “I will defend Iran against the film’s like ‘Argo,’ which are produced in Hollywood to distort the country’s image.

But can she? LASIS investigates.

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Carry on, Yelpers

Yelp Sign

By Jennifer Williams

It’s hard to remember a time when I made a decision like where to eat or who to hire to paint my apartment without the help of reviewers and critics on websites like Yelp.

These sites all but eliminate the need for trial and error. I know the little place to get really good Mexican food. And I know about (and avoid) the Italian restaurant  with overpriced menu options (I am, after all, a poor law student).

But when reviews lead us astray, there is no better vindication for a cold meal, dirty restaurant, horrible service, or (__________________enter your complaint here), than ranting from the safety of your own computer. After all, others will see the seething review and, if you’re lucky, will avoid the establishment you tell them to at all costs.

A relatively painless catharsis, right? Wrong.

As one reviewer in Fairfax, Virginia recently learned, a spiteful review may come back to haunt you.

Jane Perez took to sites like Yelp and Angie’s List to leave searing reviews of the general contracting company that had, in her mind, done far less than acceptable work. According to Ms. Perez, Christopher Dietz and his contracting company, Dietz Development, had done damage to her home, charged for work that wasn’t completed, and was responsible for the mysterious disappearance of some of her jewelry. “Bottom line,” Ms. Perez cautioned, “do not put yourself through this nightmare of a contractor.”

Mr. Dietz didn’t shake it off or create fake positive reviews to counter Ms. Perez. Instead, he filed a defamation suit against Ms. Perez claiming her reviews were false and damaged his reputation. He is seeking $750,000 and sought an injunction requiring her to stop commenting about his company and to remove the comments already made.

Is it possible that my fellow Yelpers (and I) could be subject to a defamation lawsuit for commenting about goods or services online? On behalf of reviewers everywhere, LASIS investigated.

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Words Gone Wild

defamation

By Asher Hawkins

Joe Francis, creator of the internationally revered cinéma-vérité genre known as Girls Gone Wild, recently learned a hard lesson during his marathon legal mano-a-mano with Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn: Make sure you understand the law if you want to rely on it to keep you out of trouble.

After a Los Angeles jury found that Mr. Francis had, during the course of a dispute over an alleged gambling debt, defamed Mr. Wynn (to the tune of damages ultimately totaling $40 million), Mr. Francis put out a statement that included these choice observations:

“Strictly from a legal standpoint, I believe the jury should have found in my favor for numerous reasons. Besides THE FACT THAT I AM TELLING THE TRUTH, statements that are made in a courtroom in this context are considered ‘privileged’, meaning without the fear of being sued.” [emphasis in original]

He’s right – kind of. Statements made in a courtroom are generally considered “privileged,” the term for the law’s ability to prevent certain types of communication from becoming the subject of defamation lawsuits. But that doesn’t mean the person making the statements in the courtroom won’t be found liable for defamation.

Hop on the LASIS tour bus and allow us to explain.

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Queens Accountant Fishes for Headlines with Defamation Suit; NY News Media Bites

By Ted Wills

In the “Rants and Raves” section of Craiglist, an anonymous poster recently left this less- than-rave review of accountant Leo Kehoe:

“CPA FRAUD ALERT! (BEWARE OF CROOK) Watch out for this fraudulent scumbag! … He will botch up your tax returns and forget to submit them. He has been associated with TAX EVATION and falsifying records . . . Warn everyone you know!”

Less than pleased, Kehoe filed a $4 million defamation suit in Queens County against both Craigslist and the anonymous author.  The NY media ate it up, with the NY Post, the NY Daily News, and Gothamist focusing on Craigslist being sued, and trumpeting this angle with headlines such as “Queens accountant sues Craigslist for allowing poster to insult him.” The stories, which emphasize the millions in requested damages, leave the reader with the impression that Mr. Kehoe has a fighting chance to, in the words of the Post, “even the balance sheet” with Craigslist.  However, all three of these media accounts ignore the likelihood that Kehoe’s lawsuit has virtually no chance of succeeding against Craiglist—and may even invite sanctions against his attorney.

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