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Federal Judge Throws Out Libel Suit Against ProPublica Protecting its Right to Expose an Alleged National Security Threat

Most large companies have entire departments devoted to handling their public relations and part of their job description includes coming up with ways to counteract negative media attention. Most of those strategies don’t involve filing a defamation lawsuit against the news organization that published the unflattering statements, but that’s exactly what Hummingbird Defense Systems did after two news organizations reported a breach of the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center, an intelligence center that was set up by local government authorities after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Hummingbird Defense Systems is a small firm located in Phoenix and run by Steve Greschner. In 2007, a Chinese national was hired by Hummingbird Defense Systems as a computer programmer, which allegedly gave him access to the Arizona driver’s license database and possibly to a list of investigators and intelligence analysts. When the employee allegedly returned to Beijing with two laptops, as well as additional hard drives, the security breach was not immediately reported to the state’s attorney general, despite the fact that it may have affected as many as 5 million Arizona residents.

At the time that Hummingbird Defense Systems hired the Chinese national, Greschner was allegedly dating a Chinese immigrant who had been naturalized as a U.S. citizen and she allegedly urged Greschner to hire the Chinese national. She was never charged as a spy, although she was allegedly a suspect for a while and a federal judge did revoke her citizenship status.

In August 2014 ProPublica and The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), both nonprofit news organizations, published a story about the security breach. Among other statements, the story alleged Hummingbird Defense Systems did not have much experience in biometrics and had not hired any engineers, which made it an unlikely candidate for such a sensitive government contract.

It was these last two statements attacking the quality of his company’s work that Greschner took issue with and listed in his complaint when he filed his defamation lawsuit against both ProPublica and the CIR.

But the First Amendment was designed to protect our newspapers, and in order to prove statements are defamatory, the plaintiff must be able to provide sufficient evidence that the people making the statements knew they were false at the time they made them and intended to cause the plaintiff harm when they made the allegedly defamatory statements. Public figures (including corporations) also need to be able to prove the statements in question pose a direct threat to their business.

By bringing into question the level of competency Hummingbird Defense Systems could bring to a government contract, the threat the story posed to the company’s future business is fairly self-evident, but according to a federal judge, Greschner, who represented himself in the defamation lawsuit, failed to provide sufficient evidence that the statements were inaccurate or that the reporters had been reckless in publishing them. Having already dismissed complaints brought by Greschner regarding other statements made about him by the defendants, the judge recently granted summary judgment and dismissed the entire case.

Our Chicago libel and slander lawyers concentrate in this area of the law. We have defended or prosecuted a number of defamation and libel cases including cases representing a high profile athlete against a well known radio shock jock, a consumer sued by a large car dealer in federal court for negative internet reviews and videos, one of Loyola University’s largest contributors when the head basketball coach sued him for libel after he was fired, a lawyer who was falsely accused of committing fraud with the false allegation published to the Dean of the University of Illinois School of Law where the lawyer attended law school and the President of the University of Illinois.

Our Chicago defamation attorneys┬ádefend individuals’ First Amendment and free speech rights to post on Facebook, Yelp and other websites information that criticizes businesses and addresses matters of public concern. Our Chicago Cybersquatting attorneys also represent and prosecute claims on behalf of businesses throughout the Chicago area including in Rockford and Orland Park who have been unfairly and falsely criticized by consumers and competitors in defamatory publications in the online and off line media. We have successfully represented businesses who have been the victim of competitors setting up false rating sites and pretend consumer rating sites that are simply forums to falsely bash or business clients. We have also represented and defended consumers First Amendment and free speech rights to criticize businesses who are guilty of consumer fraud and false advertising.

Super Lawyers named Chicago and Oak Brook business trial attorneys Peter Lubin and Vincent DiTommaso Super Lawyers in the Categories of Class Action, Business Litigation and Consumer Rights Litigation. DiTommaso Lubin Austermuehle’s Oak Brook and Chicago business trial lawyers have over a quarter of century of experience in litigating complex class action, consumer rights and business and commercial litigation disputes. We handle emergency business law suits involving injunctions, and TROS, defamation, libel and covenant not to compete, franchise, distributor and dealer wrongful termination and trade secret lawsuits and many different kinds of business disputes involving shareholders, partnerships, closely held businesses and employee breaches of fiduciary duty. We also assist businesses and business owners who are victims of fraud or defamatory attacks on their business and reputations.

DiTommaso Lubin Austermuehle’s DuPage County defamation and slander lawyers near Schaumburg, Waukegan and Lake Forest have more than two and half decades of experience helping business clients unravel the complexities of Illinois and out-of-state business laws. Our Chicago business, commercial, class-action and consumer litigation lawyers represent individuals, family businesses and enterprises of all sizes in a variety of legal disputes, including disputes among partners and shareholders as well as lawsuits between businesses and and consumer rights, auto fraud, and wage claim individual and class action cases. In every case, our goal is to resolve disputes as quickly and successfully as possible, helping business clients protect their investments and get back to business as usual. From offices in Oak Brook, near Park Ridge and Oak Park, we serve clients throughout Illinois and the Midwest.

If you are the victim of a defamatory attack on your business or a consumer who has been sued to stop you from posting criticism of a business on line at Yelp or anywhere else, contact one of our Oak Brook and Chicago defamation lawyers for a free consultation at (877) 990-4990 or online by filling out our contact us form.

Photo credit: Knight Foundation via Foter.com / CC BY-SA