When ruling in cases of alleged defamation, courts have a number of considerations to keep in mind. Whether or not the alleged defamation has any basis in truth is only the first consideration. Courts must also weigh factors such as whether the plaintiff is considered a public figure or a private citizen. Public figures are generally much more limited when filing a defamation lawsuit. This is because the law assumes that it is in the best interest of the public to be able to freely discuss public events, and such discussion often includes public figures. The law also assumed that, unlike private citizens, public figures have better access to the media, which they can use to address such rumors.
In addition to these considerations, courts must not forget to take into account the circumstances surrounding the defamation. For example, if the plaintiff has already been convicted of murder, is it safe to assume that a defamatory comment could not further damage that person’s reputation? This very question is at issue in a recent defamation lawsuit against Nancy Grace, a television personality. The defendant, Michael Skakel, was sentenced to 20 years to life for allegedly murdering his neighbor, Martha Moxley, when they were both fifteen years old.
In January 2012, Grace had a live broadcast program in which she asserted that Skakel’s DNA had been found in a tree near the victim. Skakel maintains that his DNA was never found at the scene and so he filed his defamation lawsuit against Grace, Beth Karas, a legal commentator who appeared on the program, and the producers of the program, Time Warner and Turner Broadcasting System.
The defendants argue that their statements cannot be considered defamation because they are “substantially true”. They point to statements that Skakel made to acquaintances and investigators that he had climbed a tree by Moxley’s home the night of the murder with the intention of masturbating. However, stating such an intention and claiming that a person’s DNA was found near a murder victim are two different things. According to Stephan Seeger, Skakel’s attorney, such as allegations “is not a minor misstatement”.
Stephan points out that “when you see the letters DNA and put that in any story and hang it around my defendant’s neck, the whole world believes that there is DNA evidence and that is lock, stock and done. … Anyone who is watching that show now forms the belief that the DNA was there”.
A Connecticut Superior judge, concluded that Skakel had ineffective counsel at his trial in 2002, and as a result, he overturned Skakel’s conviction. Another judge then released Skakel on $1.2 million bail, which his family provided. Skakel was released on the assurance that he would be returned to prison if a Connecticut appeals court reinstates the conviction. Far from being unable to do any more harm to Skakel, the defamation has the potential to influence the jurors who hear his case on appeal who will decide whether or not to reinstate his conviction.
Seeger points out that the defendants’ “roadkill theory of reputation” which assumes that their defamation cannot do any more harm to Skakel is false. He states that “Their position fails to acknowledge the Plaintiff’s reputational interest as germane to future parole applications, future trial prospects, and any and all other discretionary benefits that he may, as a matter of law or right, seek in prison or in our Courts.” Our Chicago libel attorneys concentrate in this area of the law. We have defended or prosecuted a number of defamation and libel cases, including cases representing a consumer sued by a large luxury used car dealer in federal court for hundreds of negative internet reviews and videos which resulted in substantial media coverage of the suit; one of Loyola University’s largest contributors when the head basketball coach sued him for libel after he was fired; and 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. One of our partners also participated in representing a high profile athlete against a well-known radio shock jock. Our Chicago defamation lawyers 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 and Schaumburg, who have been unfairly and falsely criticized by consumers and competitors in defamatory publications in the online and offline 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 attorney Peter Lubin a Super Lawyer 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 a century of experience in litigating complex class action, consumer rights, and business and commercial litigation disputes. We handle emergency business lawsuits 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 Winnetka and Lake Forest litigation attorneys 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 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 Highland Park and Aurora, 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.