People who already have wealth and power are increasingly using defamation lawsuits as a weapon against their enemies. Even when the lawsuits are found to be baseless, they’re still having the desired effect of silencing the plaintiff’s opponents.
Newspapers have increasingly been targeted by defamation lawsuits. While large, national newspapers, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post have the resources to fight these lawsuits, small, local newspapers do not.
The Wausau Pilot & Review is a local newspaper reporting on local events in Wausau County, located in north-central Wisconsin. When they got a tip from a reader that someone at the August 12th meeting of the Wausau County board used an anti-gay slur, they acted on the tip and reported on it in their newspaper.
According to the newspaper, Cory Tomczyk, the owner of a shredding and recycling company, called a 13-year-old boy a “fag.” Now a Republican state senator, Mr. Tomczyk denied using the slur and demanded the newspaper retract their story. The newspaper refused and Mr. Tomczyk sued them for defamation.
Despite the recent proliferation of defamation lawsuits, the law provides a specific definition of defamation, and many of these lawsuits do not meet the requirements. The requirements include that the allegations made must be false and that the person or entity making the allegations knew they were false at the time they made them.
For public figures, such as politicians, they have an additional hurdle to overcome when filing a defamation lawsuit: they have to prove the person or entity made the defamatory comment with the intention of causing financial harm to the public official.
A judge dismissed Mr. Tomczyk’s lawsuit against the Wausau Pilot & Review, saying his case did not meet the legal requirements for defamation. Three people who were in the meeting with Mr. Tomczyk provided sworn statements that they heard him use the slur in the meeting. In a deposition, Mr. Tomczyk admitted to having used the word in other situations.
Despite having the judge rule in its favor, the Wausau Pilot & Review might still go out of business as a result of this lawsuit. They are facing almost $150,000 in legal costs related to this case and Mr. Tomczyk has appealed the judge’s decision, which means there are more legal costs to come.
The newspaper is comprised of just four staff members, and the owner has said she has no idea how she can pay both her lawyers and her staff.
At Lubin Austermuehle, we help clients navigate the complex laws and emotionally charged pathways to a court victory or settlement in slander and libel cases, as well as a vast range of other disputes from class action suits to breach of contract. We serve clients throughout Chicagoland from Waukegan, to Skokie and beyond. You can contact us online here or call us at 630-333-0333. Take advantage of our FREE consultation, where we can discuss your specific needs and wishes and our ability to meet them.