Eliot Spitzer Slapped With $90 Million Dollar Internet Defamation Lawsuit

Eliot Spitzer is facing more legal problems. William Gilman and Edward McNenney – two ex-insurance executives — are suing the ex-governor and Slate.com for a combined $90 million dollars. The pair claim Spitzer disparaged their reputations in an editorial he wrote that was posted on Slate. Gilman is seeking $60 million in Manhattan Federal Court, while McNenney is asking the state court for $30 million.

A Little Background About The Defamation

Eliot Spitzer
Eliot Spitzer

Before his dalliances with professional escort, Ashley Dupree, became public knowledge, Eliot Spitzer was a politician with a bright future. As New York’s Attorney General, he went after high-profile finance guys suspected of shady dealings, and as a result, his prominence grew in Democratic party circles. In fact, back in 2004, the Nation magazine praised Spitzer as “the single most effective battler against corporate abuses in either political party.”

Though Spitzer enjoyed a healthy reputation on the left, the right wasn’t as captured by the boy from the Bronx who had once helped take down the notorious Gambino crime family. There were many accusations of over-stepping when it came to his office’s aggressive litigation pursuits. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce president said that Spitzer’s tactics were “the most egregious and unacceptable form of intimidation we’ve seen in this country in modern times.”

Unmoved by his detractors, Spitzer continued to hurricane his way through Wall Street, and as a result of his seemingly pro-consumer, white-collar litigations, the Attorney general was elected Governor in 2007. The first two months of his term were great, but in the third month, news broke that he was knocking boots with a paid companion, one Ms. Ashley Dupree. Voters don’t like when elected officials engage in extramarital affairs, so Spitzer was ousted. Game, set, match .

After Spitzer’s Fall

On March 17, 2008, Eliot Spitzer resigned from Albany’s oval office. Once he was gone, many of the finance industry-related lawsuits he once pioneered were overturned. Every newspaper, website and television station published opinions, spots and articles about Spitzer’s fall from grace. As always, the field was split. Supporters raged about how prostitution-gate was merely payback for disturbing the wasps’ nest and opponents reveled about out how Eliot Spitzer was burned thanks to the over-reaching policies (wiretaps) he put in place to trap high-finance players.

In 2010, The Wall Street Journal printed and posted an editorial to which Spitzer took offense. In retaliation, the ex-governor responded with his own missive on Slate.com entitled “They Still Don’t Get It”. In his article, Spitzer mentioned Marsh & McLennan Companies Inc. – the ex-employer of Gilman and McNenney that had once worked out an $850-million-dollar settlement with the AG. In his article, Spitzer doesn’t name Gilman and McNenney flat out, but he does allude to “criminal conduct” by Marsh.

Is The Claim Of Defamation Valid?

It will be interesting to watch how this Internet defamation lawsuit plays out. While it is illegal to label an acquitted individual a criminal, the accusation can be seen as opinion – and voicing one’s beliefs is protected by free speech statutes. Moreover, public figures – which arguably Gilman and McNenney are – must prove that the defamatory statements in question contributed to the plaintiff’s financial deterioration. In other words, Gillman and M will have to prove that they suffered direct pecuniary loss as a result of Spitzer’s editorial. My guess is that considering the current economic climate, it’s going to take a miracle to convince a jury to award millions of dollars to an already wealthy Wall Street executive.

Spitzer doesn’t seem to be shaken by the looming defamation litigation, calling the lawsuit “entirely frivolous.” Slate’s attorney, David Plotz, has also gone on record as saying that he “looks forward to defending [Slate].”

Online defamation doesn’t care if you’re a public figure or a recluse. Reports show that Internet libel has increased across the board exponentially over the past half decade. If you’re currently dealing with a cyber libel situation, the Kelly Law Firm are the people to turn to. Contact us about your online defamation lawsuit today.

Important US Defamation Lawsuits: The Late 1960s-1980s

IS Law LibraryThis is the second part in our short series of notable United States defamation lawsuits. Click here for the first installment.

Defamation laws are sure to evolve over the next several decades. The Internet is now a ubiquitous part of our lives and has dramatically altered the way we communicate friends and family, conduct business and get our news. The rise of social media platforms has also complicated what it means to defame another. Is Twitter considered a news outlet that should be held to the same standards as national newspapers? Are all messages on one’s Facebook page count as opinion or are they generally interpreted as fact? These and others are questions currently being explored in courts across the country.

Let’s take a look back at a few monumental defamation lawsuits from the past that have helped shaped libel and slander law up to this point.

Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc.

Gertz v. Robert Welch made defamation strict liability unconstitutional in the United States. In addition, the Gertz ruling established that states have the right to set defamation laws for private Citizens and also asserted that if a state’s defamation liability standard is lower than actual malice, only actual damages can be awarded.

The year was 1968 and Robert Nuccio, a Chicago Police officer, was convicted of murdering a man. As was their right, in addition to the criminal trial, the victim’s family also filed a civil suit against Nuccio; Elmer Gertz was retained as their lawyer.

Things got complicated when the John Birch Society—a far-right, conspiracy-minded group—published an inflammatory article in their journal, American Opinion, which fingered Gertz as a member of a communist conspiracy to systematically dismantle police agencies in favor of a dictatorial police state. The Society’s article also implicated Gertz as having an extensive criminal record.

The exact details of the case and appeals are dense and exceed the scope of this entry. Suffice it to say that Gertz filed a defamation claim against the John Birch Society (Robert Welch, Inc. is the group’s legal name). There were many trials and appeals and the Supreme Court had the last word.
In a 5-4 majority ruling, the highest court ruled that “under the First Amendment there is no such thing as a false idea…(it) requires that we protect some falsehood in order to protect speech that matters.” Gertz v. Robert Welch is a Supreme Court ruling that expanded what could be disseminated in the press without fear of prosecution.

Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell

8 Supreme Court Justices—with Justice Anthony Kennedy recusing himself from the case—unanimously ruled in favor of Hustler Magazine publisher, Larry Flynt, in his 80s-era, legal rumble with Reverend Jerry Falwell.

A critic of the outspoken evangelist, Flynt published a cartoon in his adult magazine which implied Rev. Falwell had relations with his own mother in an outhouse. Severely aggrieved, Falwell filed an extensive lawsuit against Flynt which charged libel, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. A Virginia district court threw out the libel charges, but agreed to hear arguments on the emotional distress charge. Moved by the prosecution’s case, Falwell was awarded $150,000 in damages. After several appeals, the case reached the Supreme Court.

The Justices reasoned that the First Amendment of the US Constitution guaranteed free-speech and therefore public figures are prohibited from being awarded damages to compensate for “intentionally inflicted emotional distress”. Moreover, they found the cartoon to be satirical in that no “reasonable person” would think the animation to be truthful. Flynt won and did not have to pay Falwell the money.

If you have found yourself in the middle on an Internet defamation lawsuit, we’ve got the team of lawyers that can help. Contact us today to begin the conversation.

Online Defamation Loss Means Courtney Love Has to Pay Big

Oh, Courtney Love.

The Hole front-woman has found herself in the center of yet another costly legal battle. This time around, the notoriously erratic Courtney is paying up for defaming a fashion designer, Dawn Simorangkir, online. Love’s unlovely tweet-rants are costing her a cool $430,000.

Courtney’s Online Defamation Story

It all started in 2009 after Love had bought some clothing from Simorangkir —an up-and-coming clothing designer popularly known as the “Boudoir Queen”. Apparently, Dawn and Courtney got into a disagreement over a $4,000 bill. Love said she didn’t owe it, Simorangkir insisted she did. Instead of handling the dispute in private, Courtney decided to take to Twitter and unleashed a tirade. Accusations ranged from assault and battery, to prostitution, to drug dealing. In one of her more prolific tweets, Love described the Boudoir Queen as an “a**wipe nasty lying hosebag thief”. You know, typical Courtney Love talk.

The attacks were immediately disseminated to Love’s 40,000 followers and re-tweeted thousands of times over. In the days following the initial Twitter rant, offensive comments about Simorangkir began to surface on etsy.com and MySpace.

Shortly after the incident, the designer filed a defamation lawsuit against Courtney Love claiming that the offensive tweets ruined her fashion business.

A trial date was set and settlement talks began. Both sides decided on a $430,000 payday for Simorangkir before the Internet defamation lawsuit saw the inside of the court room.

Legal Implications for Twitter Defamation

In some ways, it’s disappointing that Love’s online defamation trial was eventually settled out of court, for it would have been one of the first defamation lawsuits that dealt with the increasingly popular social media phenomenon, Twitter.

Reports indicate that if the case had been heard by a jury, Love was planning to defend herself by claiming that her tweets were merely opinion. The defense lawyers also had a medical expert lined up who was expected to assert that Courtney wasn’t in a “right state of mind” when publishing the tweets; in essence, a defense that could be surmised as “tweeting while messed-up”.

If you are involved in an online defamation argument, the Kelly Law Firm can help. We’ve successfully handled Internet libel cases of all types and know the most effective ways of both getting the offending information removed and crafting end-user agreements which protect publishers from liability. Use the form to your right to get in touch, or give us a call at 866-961-4948. The consultation is free and our rates priced for online businesspeople.