A judge has awarded a Brisbane businessman a record defamation payout, including character attacks that will permanently appear on a controversial US consumer watchdog website.
According to The Guardian UK, Jarrod Sierocki and his business Insolvency Guardian have been granted a defamation payout of $260,000 plus $37,788 interest after being targeted by a disgruntled former business partner and client in online material suggesting he was “an adulterer, a fraud, a criminal, a liar, a conman and a sociopath”.
The defamation payout was four times as large as the previous highest amount awarded by a supreme court judge under a Queensland defamation regime that has capped damages awards since 1995.
Paul Klerk and Brent Thompson, Sierocki’s former partner and client respectively, attacked him on websites including the US-based ripoffreport.com, which forced them to acknowledge the material could not be removed even at their own request.
Justice Peter Flanagan, who heard evidence from a forensic computer scientist, said he accepted the ripoffreport.com posts against Sierocki were “extremely difficult, if not impossible, to remove”.
Hence the online slurs against Sierocki could “never be truly driven underground”, Flanagan said in a written judgment delivered on 17 April.
“Even today, Google has [Sierocki] listed on the first page of the image search results with a picture of a person with a black hood over their head with two holes for the eyes and one hole for the mouth which looks something like a Klu Klux Klan hood,” he said.
“This picture is hyperlinked to the ripoffreport.com website which I have already observed is permanent until it ceases to operate.
“As at the date of swearing this affidavit, namely 14 March 2015, the first plaintiff is aware that there are still at least three entries on Google alleging that he is a conman, a thief and a liar.”
Sierocki is running a separate damages lawsuit against Google for featuring the publications in its search results.
Klerk, who also set up a number of websites which published the slurs, was found to have separately defamed Sierocki by emailing his wife and claiming he had “had an extra-marital affair, took illegal drugs [and] was an evil person”.
Sierocki and his wife said that they had been “consumed by humiliation and embarrassment” over the online slurs, which had been constantly raised by Sierocki’s business associates and read by family in Germany, Serbia, Poland.
The distress had triggered depression and led to Sierocki “crying himself to sleep”.
He had been forced to resign from a Freemason’s lodge, the Knights Templar and the Knights of Malta, as well as his post as chairman of the Brisbane Spartans basketball club.
Former Olympic basketballer Shane Heal, a client of Sierocki’s, gave evidence that he was contacted by a person advising him to “stay away from Jarrod Sierocki, he ‘rips people off and he can’t be trusted’”.
Although Heal later became a coach for a new women’s national basketball league team bid spearheaded by Sierocki, he “did become very wary of him for a long time” after reading the allegations on the internet via a Google search.
Sierocki’s barrister Alex Nelson told the court that the “grave and widespread allegations” had left “a permanent stain” upon his client’s reputation and “vindication” called for “a very large award”.
Flanagan said the size of the payout was partly intended to convince people they should ignore the slurs against Sierocki.
Nelson submitted that, given the grave and widespread allegations together with the permanent stain that they would leave upon the plaintiffs’ reputations, vindication was the most important feature and called for a very large award.
Neither Klerk, whose solicitors withdrew from representing him during the case, nor Thompson apologised over the defamatory material or attended court for the damages assessment.
Former NSW deputy premier Andrew Stoner says broadcaster Alan Jones defamed him by saying he “sold out” his farming constituency and gave favourable treatment to mining and resources companies in return for political donations to the Nationals.
But on Tuesday, lawyers for the top-rating 2GB breakfast host Alan Jones told the Supreme Court the term “sold out” is too ambiguous to be put to a jury.
Mr Stoner is suing Alan Jones and Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham for defamation over a series of five broadcasts in June and August last year regarding the contentious issues of coal seam gas and coal mining in regional NSW.
Mr Stoner’s barrister, Terence Tobin, QC, told Justice Lucy McCallum the broadcasts were “an extraordinarily virulent attack” on the former Nationals leader, who did not recontest his seat of Oxley at the March election.
Matthew Richardson, who is acting for Jones and Mr Buckingham, opposed several of the defamatory imputations pleaded by Mr Stoner.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Richardson said he would not argue that calling someone a “gun for hire” was not defamatory but suggested it had not been pleaded correctly.
In the first four broadcasts, Alan Jones attacked Mr Stoner as “dumb as a plank of wood” and accused him of describing a group of anti-coal seam gas protesters at Bentley on the NSW north coast as “professional bludgers”.
Jones also labelled Mr Stoner a “gutless wonder” and an “intellectual incompetent”.
On August 29, Jones interviewed Mr Buckingham in relation to the Shenhua coal mine in the Liverpool Plains.
Mr Buckingham said “the first thing Andrew Stoner did … when he came into government was to facilitate one of the biggest coal mines in the heart of the Liverpool Plains, Shenhua”.
He accused Mr Stoner of “undermining his constituency, the farmers”.
They also discussed allegations before the Independent Commission Against Corruption about the former mining mogul Nathan Tinkler.
At the time of the August 29 broadcast, ICAC was hearing allegations that then NSW Labor government ministers Eric Roozendaal and Joe Tripodi had taken steps to help Mr Tinkler secure approval for a coal loader in the Newcastle suburb of Mayfield.
“Lots of money flowed from Nathan Tinkler and his interests to the National Party and after they got into government Andrew Stoner and [another Nationals MP] did the bidding of Nathan Tinkler,” Mr Buckingham said.
“They kept in train the process that Joe Tripodi and Eric Roozendaal set in place.”
In his statement of claim Mr Stoner says the broadcasts conveyed him as not fit to be NSW Nationals leader or Deputy Premier and that he favoured miners over the welfare of the community.
It says Mr Buckingham had imputed that Mr Stoner “acted corruptly in promoting the coal interests of Nathan Tinkler as a pay-off for donations to the [National] party”. Mr Stoner says the imputations are false.
On Tuesday, Mr Tobin said the mere mention of the ICAC created a “whiff of corruption” around his client.
Justice McCallum will hand down her judgment on which imputations can go to the jury on Friday.
In a recent HBO show, children are depicted as maltreated laborers for a popular soccer ball and sports equipment manufacturer.
Lincoln Bandlow was featured in The Hollywood Reporter article, “HBO Faces Huge Defamation Trial Over “Hoax” Child Labor Report.” Full text can be found in the April 3, 2015, issue, but a synopsis is noted below.
In a recent show by the television company, children are depicted as maltreated laborers for a popular soccer ball and sports equipment manufacturer. The sports company took the media company to court, despite HBO’s claims that the show is clearly staged and exaggerated.
In court, it was ruled that the sports company is not technically a public figure. This sparked a call for an emergency appeal from almost 30 major news organizations since it creates a great amount of uncertainty in the media. The appeal will likely take place after the trial.
Regarding the media’s involvement, Lincoln Bandlow with Fox Rothschild stated, “Stay tuned because even though statistically, about 75 percent of the time, the media defendant gets hit at trial, about the same 75 percent of the time, that gets reversed on appeal.”
An Alabama blogger from Shelby County, who spent five months in jail before agreeing to remove stories from his website about the son of a former governor, has now been ordered to pay $3.5 million in a defamation lawsuit filed by a former campaign manager for Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange.
The Alabama blogger had written about an alleged affair between Strange and the campaign manager.
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Donald Blankenship on Monday entered a default judgment against Roger Shuler and his website Legal Schnauzer for $1.5 million in compensatory and $2 million in punitive damages. The judge wrote that all the elements for the judgment were present, including that a false and defamatory statement was made.
Jessica Medeiros Garrison, a Birmingham lawyer, filed the defamation lawsuit in 2013 against Shuler. She had managed Strange’s 2010 campaign for Alabama Attorney General and served as Chief Counsel and Deputy Attorney General in 2011.
“The facts are clear and the judgment speaks for itself,” Garrison stated in an email Tuesday to AL.com. “The absolute and blatant disregard for the truth has to come with consequences. I am very happy to finally be in a position to set the record straight,” she wrote.
Bill Baxley, one of Garrison’s attorneys, also said the ruling “speaks for itself.” He said he doubts his client will be able to collect any money from Shuler, who had his house foreclosed upon a year or so ago.
Joel Dillard, another attorney for Garrison, said they are grateful that the judget returned a verdict that adequately compensates Garrison. “She is the righteous, kind, gracious working mother of a young son she adores, and this fact magnified this outrageous wrong. Shuler’s statements about her were not just libelous, they were plucked from thin air, and were cyber-bullying of the worst order,” Dillard stated.
Strange also issued a statement today.
“I am pleased the court has confirmed there was no truth to these lies and that some measure of justice has been done,” Strange stated.
Shuler failed or refused to sit for a scheduled deposition. He was sanctioned by Judge Blankenship, who then set a March hearing for sanctions and default judgment.
At the March 9 hearing the judge heard testimony from Garrison and Strange. Both testified the allegations Shuler had written that the two had an extramarital affair and had a son together were false, according to the judge’s order.
Shuler, or any lawyer representing him, did not attend the hearing.
Garrison testified that Shuler had written false comments in his Legal Schnauzer blog concerning her and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, the judge’s order states.
“The (Legal Schnauzer) comments suggested that the plaintiff (Garrison) received preferential treatment from the Attorney General because the two were engaged in an ongoing extramarital affair; and that the Attorney General was the father of the Plaintiff’s minor son,” the judge’s order stated.
Garrison testified that the comments were false and “were embarrassing, hurtful and degrading.”
“She testified further that the comments made it difficult to perform her job. She works with a national organization, The Republican Attorneys General Association,” according to the judge’s order.
Garrison also stated that since the comments have now become widely known, she constantly suffers from embarrassment and anxiety, according to the judge’s orders. “She testified that she worries about how the comments could later affect her minor son.”
Strange also testified that the comments concerning his relationship with Garrison and a photo on the website that was cropped to make it appear Strange and Garrison were alone, were false.
“The Court finds the comments defamatory,” Judge Blankenship stated in his order.
Efforts to reach Shuler for comment were unsuccessful prior to publication of this story.
On Thursday, a federal judge overseeing a lawsuit by three women against Bill Cosby issued his first decision in the case.
Tamara Green, Therese Serignese and Linda Traitz are suing Bill Cosby for defamation on the grounds that the comedian and his reps branded them liars in response to sexual abuse charges. In response, Cosby has asserted rights to make “privileged utterances of self-defense.”
Today’s ruling from U.S. District Judge Mark Mastroianni only addresses whether the three women should be allowed to amend their lawsuit — and his opinion is a careful one that’s not intended to address the merits of the claims. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the new language in the amended lawsuit shows just how problematic the statute of limitations has become for the women targeting Cosby.
After all, the statute of limitations is one of the core reasons why the women aren’t going after Cosby for sexual abuse directly. Green, for instance, claims that she was drugged and sexually assaulted by Cosby in the 1970s. That’s too old a charge to survive in court. So she’s targeting statements by Cosby’s reps in reaction to articles about her allegations. In particular, there’s one comment by Cosby lawyer Walter Phillips Jr. to a 2014 story in The Washington Post. He stated, “Mr. Cosby does not know the name Tamara Green or Tamara Lucier [her maiden name], and the incident she describes did not happen.”
But… it turns out that Phillips didn’t make that statement in 2014. The newspaper later published a correction indicating that the response was made in 2005. And so, even the defamation claim based upon this statement might not survive the statute of limitations.
Joseph Cammarata, attorney for the plaintiffs, appears to have a new theory on why a decade-old statement is still punishable. The amendment to the lawsuit includes language that Cosby, through Phillips, gave the statement in 2005, “with the expectation and intent that the statement would be republished by news outlets in the event that Plaintiff Green should repeat her accusations.”
In response, Cosby’s attorneys demanded the judge stop the lawsuit from being amended because it would be “futile,” that it still wouldn’t beat the statute of limitations.
Holding people liable for comments made long ago for their future expectations on republishing opens a can of worms. However, Mastroianni isn’t going to tackle plaintiff’s theory just yet. In a ruling that should probably only interest hard-core geeks of civil procedure, he notes the plaintiffs aren’t adding new claims, just amending relevant facts and corresponding arguments to existing ones. Thus, he allows the lawsuit to include this new language about a 2005 statement being given with the expectation that it would get re-published a decade later.
Eventually, the judge will address the merits of the defamation claims, and until then, there could be a battle over discovery.
The three accusers are aiming to inspect documents about Cosby’s prior legal battle over sexual misconduct. That case took place in Pennsylvania, was settled in 2006, and many of the documents remain sealed. The plaintiffs in the defamation case are seeking to subpoena third parties, requesting those old documents, and tell the judge, “The documents at issue may include discovery responses and/or deposition testimony by Defendant Cosby admitting to sexual misconduct against one or more of the Plaintiffs, contrary to Defendant’s representation to this Court in his Motion to Dismiss.”
Over in the Pennsylvania case, the judge sent out a notice of the potential unsealing of certain discovery motions, which led one of Cosby’s lawyers to object and request a hearing. Cosby attorney George Gownwrote, “This is a complex matter, involving important and legitimate privacy issues.”
LOS ANGELES, California. – A defamation lawsuit filed against television host Dr. Phil McGraw by two brothers once considered suspects in the disappearance of Alabama teen Natalee Holloway has been dismissed.
The defamation lawsuit court records show the case by Deepak and Satish Kalpoe was tossed out Monday, one week before a trial was scheduled to begin.
The Kalpoes sued McGraw and CBS over a 2005 report that featured a secretly recorded conversation between Deepak Kalpoe and a private investigator. The Kalpoes’ lawsuit accused the show of altering the footage to make it seem like the brothers had something to do with the disappearance of Holloway.
McGraw and CBS denied any wrongdoing in the report. Their attorney, Charles Babcock, declined to comment.
Holloway went missing in Aruba in May 2005, and her disappearance has never been solved.