Technology has been advancing so quickly in just the past few years that the law is still struggling to keep up, but the law is successfully keeping pace, at least in some areas.
Dr. Rosalind Griffin recently demonstrated what appears to be a lack of understanding of both defamation law and how the Internet works when she filed an ethics complaint against an attorney, Steven Gursten, for allegedly writing defamatory statements about her on his blog. She demanded that the ethics commission intercede and force Gursten to remove his blog post even though she didn’t file a slander suit and would never likely be able to obtain such a prior restraint on speech through a court action. Griffin instead opted to use an ethics charge to block speech.
Gursten wrote that Dr. Griffin had testified in court that his client had told her things that directly contradicted what Gursten’s client said in Dr. Griffin’s recorded medical examination. The blog post Gursten wrote according to Dr. Griffin implied Dr. Griffin’s conduct constituted perjury and a serious abuse of her position as an insurance medical examiner.
Dr. Griffin filed her complaint against Gursten with Michigan’s Attorney Grievance Commission (AGC), demanding he take down his blog post, as well as the link in Google that showed up as the first result of a search of her name. Seeing as Dr. Griffin sits on the Attorney Discipline Board, Gursten questioned whether the complaint could be considered an abuse of her position on the board. Gursten pointed to the board’s legal history and its association with the person who filed the complaint. It hardly seemed like a fair fight, but Gursten was prepared to see it through.
Fortunately, he didn’t have to. The AGC wrote a letter to Dr. Griffin, explaining why it would not be pursuing an investigation against Gursten for defamation. The letter according to Gursten’s blog stated that the language used by Gursten in his original blog post constituted free speech and, as such, is protected under both the Michigan and U.S. Constitutions.
This is great news for Gursten, who can now get back to his life without having to worry about defending himself against what could easily qualify as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) in most industries in many parts of the country. But it’s a relief that may have come too late, as Gursten wrote in his follow-up post, he had already been required to expend considerable time and money in preparing to respond to the investigation.
Because the AGC threatened to charge Gursten with misconduct if he failed to respond to the investigation, he had no choice. He was required to hire an attorney to defend him, which cost him legal fees. It also took considerable time away from his own legal practice. That lost time and money is enough to create a “chilling effect” on other attorneys who might be less inclined to speak out for fear of having to pay the price for facing similar retaliation.
Gursten was lucky that the grievance filed against him gained significant legal and media attention, which probably helped in the AGC’s decision to break off the investigation. Hopefully, it will encourage others to continue speaking out when they suspect other professionals of misconduct, or even malpractice. The First Amendment encourages public debate of public figures and issues that affect the common good. Defamation lawsuits that seek to silence people bringing attention to these issues are not only making life difficult for those speaking out, they are actively violating the First Amendment and dissuading lawyers from making robust critiques of the legal system.
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 defend 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 Naperville, Burr Ridge and Hinsdale, 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. 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.
Lubin Austermuehle’s Naperville, Wheaton and Aurora defamation and slander lawyers 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 Schaumburg, Lisle and Carol Stream, 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 (833) 306-4933 or online by filling out our contact us form.