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Tuesday, April 22, 2003

U.S. Supreme to Consider Considering Internet Jurisdiction in Defamation Cases

law.com reports here that the U.S. Supreme Court at its private conference on Friday will consider whether to hear argument in Healthgrades.com v. Northwest Healthcare Alliance Inc., No. 02-1250. Northwest Healthcare Alliance Inc. sued Healthgrades.com, an Internet company that offers ratings of health care providers nationwide based on federal government data, in Washington state court, claiming that its ranking of "average" on the web site was defamatory. After removal to federal court, the case was dismissed on Healthgrades.com's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, however, finding that Healthgrades.com "purposefully interjected itself" into the Washington state market by offering rankings that it knew would be of interest mainly to Washington residents.

In its petition for certiorari, Healthgrades.com argues that the Ninth Circuit's ruling violates due process, conflicts with other circuits, and "potentially subjects those who communicate opinions over the Internet to the unconstitutional burden of being subject to suit in any forum."

[link via Tech Law Advisor]

. . . And Then This Guy In A Batman Costume Comes In . . .

Reuters via Netscape News reports here that actor James Larsen has filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against documentary filmmaker James Ronald Whitney and his production company, Fire Island Films, alleging claims of assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence in connection with a February 2003 audition at a Los Angeles home. According to the report, Larsen claims "he was told in the audition to improvise with two women who handcuffed him to a chair and began dancing in a 'playfully seductive manner.' An unidentified man burst into the house, shouting 'What the hell is going on? This is my house, and this is my girlfriend,' the lawsuit said. The man began fighting with casting supervisor Josh Coleman, then pulled out a gun, pointing it at Larsen's head and pulling the trigger."

After Larsen jumped to the floor while still handcuffed to the chair, Whitney and several other crew members came out from hiding and informed him that the entire event had been staged and filmed.

Monday, April 21, 2003

More on Nike v. Kasky

Tony Mauro writes on Nike, Inc. v. Kasky for law.com here. The article quotes Bruce Johnson of Seattle's Davis Wright Tremaine, an attorney who I respect and admire, and who, more importantly wrote an amicus brief in the case on behalf of a number of media organizations. Bruce, as usual, offers a ray of clarity, noting that the only kind of communication that could be challenged as less-protected commercial speech is "that which does nothing more than propose a transaction," or in other words, an advertisement.

SCOTUSblog has the case covered here, including links to the parties' briefs and a ridiculous number of amicus briefs (including Bruce's).

Thursday, April 17, 2003

It's Always The Tenth Paragraph That Gets You

Editor & Publisher reports here that a Pennsylvania jury has awarded Jeffrey Cammerino, a Scranton, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission officer, $15,000 for being misidentified as the plaintiff in a conspiracy lawsuit, in an article published by The Tribune, a weekday morning paper published by The Scranton Times L.P. The article concerned a federal suit filed by David Rickert that alleged that Cammerino and other officials conspired to falsely arrest Rickert on assault and other charges. While the paper correctly identified Rickert and Cammerino in their proper roles in the first nine paragraphs of the story, in the tenth Cammerino's name was used where Rickert's was meant to appear.

Cammerino claimed that the mistake caused some readers to believe he had been the person arrested.

According to E&P, although the judge refused to apply the actual malice standard to Cammerino, whose government position was part-time and unpaid, The Scranton Times has indicated that it will not appeal.

Corporations Are People Too!

The New Jersey Law Journal via law.com reports here on an interesting aspect of the Nike, Inc. v. Kasky case -- the tenuousness of the notion that corporations are persons entitled to free speech. [prior post concerning Nike, Inc. v. Kasky here]

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Tha Row Removed From Wrongful Death Suit

Updating a prior post, Suge Knight's record company, Tha Row, has been removed from the wrongful death suit filed against aspiring rapper and alleged cannibal Antron Singleton a/k/a Big Lurch. [report via Findlaw.com here]

I do like the picture of Snoop and "his boys in blue" on Tha Row's web site though.

Dow Jones Reporter Files Complaint With UN Human Rights Commissioner Over Liability for Internet Defamation

Sabrina Pacifici of beSpacific reports here that Bill Alpert, the author of the article at center in the Australian Gutnick v. Dow Jones suit, has filed a complaint with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, claiming that the Australian High Court's decision permitting the case to proceed in Australia on the basis of publication via the Internet violates his rights.

The Art of the Deposition: Step 1: Identify the Witness

Taking depositions can be fun! Here, using a real life example, I'll take you through step 1, identifying the witness:

Q: Mr. Flynt, what is your full name?
A: Christopher Columbus Cornwallis I.P.Q. Harvey H. Apache Pugh. They call me Larry Flynt. And all those historical figures.
Q: Are you known as Larry Flynt?"
A: No. Jesus H. Flynt, Esquire.
Q: Have you ever called yourself Larry Flynt?
A: Used to, but it was spelled with an 'I' then. 'F-L-I-N-T.' Now it's 'F-L-Y-N-T.' I have two birth certificates.
Q: Were you born in Kentucky?
A: No.
Q: Have you ever served in the United States Navy?
A: Hmm -- I'm not sure.
Q: Have you ever lived in Dayton, Ohio?
A: No, I was hatched in Dayton, Ohio.
Q: While you were in Dayton, Ohio, did you ever work in the nightclub business?
A: Huh?
Q: Did you ever work in the nightclub business in or around Dayton, Ohio?
A:
Q: Let the stenograph record reflect that Mr. Flynt has just picked his left nostril and placed on the floor some of the mucus that had coagulated there.

See? Fun! Pretty soon you'll be on your way. Next time, what to do when your witness/client call you an idiot and an asshole!

Deposition of Larry Flynt, Falwell v. Flynt, portions of transcript included in Jerry Falwell v. Larry Flynt, The First Amendment on Trial, by Rodney Smolla.

For more (serious) tips on taking depositions see Ernie the Attorney here.

Just In Time for Easter, Evanescence Records Removed From Christian Store Shelves!

After members of the rock band Evanescence dropped the "f" bomb and took Christ's name in vain during an interview with Entertainment Weekly, their label Wind-Up Records officially recalled all of the band's products from Christian stores, Christian radio, and Christian charts. The band, which has roots in the Christian music scene, has apparently crossed the line by going "secular." [report here via cmcentral.com] [story via Romenesko]

Fun fact of little to no value: I actually like most of the the band's single "Bring Me To Life" that's been getting a lot of airplay here in New York, except for the part where the guy sings/raps, which is a little too Linkin Park. Turns out he's just guest appearing on that track, so maybe I'll actually buy the CD.

UK's Daily Mail to Pay Steven Bing Over Alleged Libel

Reuters is reporting that U.S. film producer Steven Bing has "won" substantial damages from the U.K. newspaper Daily Mail in a libel case arising out of a story headlined "Private eyes and sexual slurs -- how Bing is trying to destroy Liz." The article alleged that Bing, who was roasted in the British press for issuing a public statement questioning whether he was the father of actress Elizabeth Hurley's baby (turns out he was), and his attorney Martin Singer, who also filed suit against the paper, had hired an "anti-Hurley team" including a private detective to "dig up dirt" on Hurley to reduce the amount of money a U.S. court would order Bing to pay in any paternity suit.

While the account says the Bing "won" damages, the facts related in the Reuters article suggest that the case was settled. Rebecca Jackson, the paper's lawyer, said the paper sincerely apologized for the embarrassment and distress caused. It has agreed to pay substantial but undisclosed damages to British children's charities chosen by Bing. The court was also told that the paper's editor, Paul Dacre, and the journalist who wrote the story, Daniel Jeffreys, now accepted there was no truth in the article.

The libel suit is apparently the second launched by Bing against the British press. Last year, the Daily Mirror issued a front page apology headlined, "A humble and sincere apology to Mr Steve Bing, philanthropist and humanitarian," after the paper called Bing "Bing Laden" and a "sleazeball," published his phone number and encouraged readers to call him to say "exactly what you think of him." The fact that the Mirror ran an article explaining that Americans lack the "English proficiency at irony" on the page facing the apology almost brought the case back to court. {coverage of the apology here]

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Supreme Court to Address Commercial Speech

Julie Hilden of FindLaw.com's Writ discusses the upcoming Nike, Inc. v. Kasky argument before the U.S. Supreme Court here. Ms. Hilden believes Nike will win, and I'm with her.

Postscript on Puma Ads?

Rob Walker discusses the fake Puma ad tempest for Slate here.

Flaying and Cannabilism? Sure He Wasn't Trying to Become an Attorney?

Reuters via Findlaw.com reports that a wrongful death suit has been filed against rapper Antron Singleton a/k/a Big Lurch, Death Row Records, Stress Free records, and two employees. The suit filed by Carolyn Stinson alleges that the record label provided Singleton with drugs "to encourage (him) to act out in an extreme violent manner so as to make him more marketable as a 'Gansta Rap' artist." The alleged "encouragement" had tragic results when Singleton allegedly murdered Ms. Stinson's daughter, Tynisha Ysais, and reportedly ate part of her lung.

The lawsuit alleges that, "Part of what makes a Gansta Rap artist marketable is the fact that the artist is a current ongoing participant in violent gang activities. Singleton met this criteria and was even more marketable because his songs were as violent as his lifestyle and included rape, murder and ended with him eating his victim's body organs." In pointing the finger at the record label, the lawsuit claims that when Singleton used a "sharp (object) to remove body organs" from Ysais and ate them, the "acts were performed within the course and scope of his employment with the other defendants."

CNN Takes Heat for Journalistic Mea Culpa

CNN has been facing some criticism since its chief news executive Eason Jordan disclosed in a New York Times Op-Ed piece that CNN often did not report stories concerning the true brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime out of fear of repercussions for CNN staffers in Iraq. [article here via The New York Times]

The Washington Post covers Jordan's response here. For more, including Jordan's staff memo, see Romenesko.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Pfc. Lynch: This IS Your Life!

Professor Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy explains why NBC doesn't have to buy the movie rights to the life story of former POW Pfc. Jessica Lynch, but gives a few good reasons why it should. [via Slate's Explainer]

Maybe He Just Lost The Others In A Turbine Accident

The San Francisco Chronicle has apologized for an illustration that appeared on the cover of its Sunday Book Review. The illustration, depicting a farmer on a tractor giving the finger to a man in a convertible, was noticed by editors too late to stop the presses.

[via Romenesko]

Well, This Is Going to Make Graduation Kind of Awkward . . . .

In an April 10, 2003 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has given the go ahead to a suit filed by three students at Governors State University, a state-run institution in University Park, Illinois against Patricia Carter, the university’s dean of Student Affairs and Services, arising out of the dean's apparent attempt to have school officials review material scheduled to be printed in the school's newspaper prior to publication. In denying the dean's motion to escape liability on the grounds of qualified immunity, the Court found that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988), holding that high school administrators have broad powers to censor school-sponsored newspapers if their actions are supported by valid educational purposes, did not apply in the university setting.

[decision via Findlaw.com]

Anonymity, Libel and the Stock-Market Message Board

The Wall Street Journal reports on a libel and restraint of trade lawsuit arising out of "Wall Street's Wild West: Internet stock-market message boards."

Internet Causes Defamation Boom in Korea

The ability to anonymously voice one's opinion via the Internet is being blamed for a boom in Internet-related defamation suits according to a report by the JoongAng Daily. According to the report, with "the number of defamation suits related to Internet information reportedly increased 83 percent to 3,629 between January 2001 and January 2003," the government is considering a plan "to require that people make their personal profiles available to the public if they want to voice their opinions online." [via BNA Internet News]

Landlord's Libel Suit Dismissed

In a non-media case, law.com reports on the dismissal of a landlord's defamation suit against a tenant who claimed that the landlord was harassing elderly tenants into vacating their apartments. The court found that the tenant's statement, which was made to court-appointed evaluator investigating the competency of one of the tenant's neighbors, was protected by the absolute privilege given to parties, attorneys and witnesses to protect statements related to a judicial proceeding.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Media Seek Information in Moussaoui Case

A motion filed by ABC, the AP, CNN, CBS, The Hearst Corp., NBC, The New York Times, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, The Star Tribune Co., Tribune Co. and The Washington Post seeks a ruling making upcoming oral arguments in the Zacarias Moussaoui case open to the public as well as the release of many documents related to the case. The motion asks that the court make documents public within 10 days unless the court rules they should be secret and publicly explains why.

[report here via CNN]

Saturday, April 12, 2003

Louisiana Hillbilly Lobby Flexes Its Muscle

E! Online News reports that the Louisiana state legislature has joined the fray over CBS's proposed "The Real Beverly Hillbillies" show. The state senate in Louisiana approved, by a 23-1 vote, a resolution condemning CBS for planning the show. "Airing such a TV show," the legislation says, "involves humiliating, stereotyping and discriminating against persons of extreme poverty." A copy of the resolution can be found here.

According to the report, the resolution follows the drafting of a letter signed by 43 U.S. Congress members, largely from states such as Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia, expressing similar concerns.

For those of you who may have been distracted by other things (and I have no idea what could be more important) CBS announced that it was seeking to transplant a multi-generational family from the mountainous regions of Arkansas, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky or North Carolina to Beverly Hills in order to broadcast the hopefully hilarious results back in August 2002.

[prior posts here and here]

Fun fact of little to no value: Senator Kenneth "Mike" Smith the Louisiana senator who co-sponsored the anti-CBS resolution is also the moving force behind the push to have Winnfield, Louisiana-based "Uncle Earl's Hog Dog Trials" declared the official state "Uncle Earl’s Hog Dog Trials" and to designate the fourth weekend in March of every year as "Uncle Earl’s Hog Dog Trials Weekend" in the state. Don't believe me, check here. It took me about 10 minutes to realize that the bill didn't relate to "hot dogs" but "hog dogs," which apparently are used to hunt wild pigs. Must be time for lunch....

Friday, April 11, 2003

University Shuts Down Student Paper Over April Fool's Issue

Stetson University has shut down The Reporter, its student newspaper, and fired the entire staff after the student staffers published "a profanity-filled April Fools' Day issue that included racist jokes and a sex column advocating rape and domestic violence." The annual April Fool's Day edition called The Distorter typically poked fun at the school, its faculty, student groups, and the paper, itself. This year, however, school officials said the paper went too far.

According to the Orlando Sentinel [here]:

The Howard Thurman lecture series, designed to promote racial dialogue, was satirized with an article about a racist Civil War enthusiast drinking beer at the podium, and the weekly sex column was written in Ebonics. The paper also included fake advertisements, such as one for a spray that "kills townies dead" and another featuring profanity in giant block letters, "because we are allowed to print it," it said.

Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Virginia is quoted in the article acknowledging that because Stetson is a private institution, it can restrict what the student newspaper publishes. "If this happened at a public university, there's no question it would have been a First Amendment issue," he said.

For more on student press law issues, you should check out the Student Press Law Center web site.

Hello! Held Liable for Snagged Wedding Photos

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas have won their suit against Hello! magazine. Justice Lindsay held that, "There was an intrusion into individuals' private lives without consent... I do not hold the intrusion to have been justified." But the judge did not base his verdict in favor of the celebrity couple on the allegations of a breach of privacy, rather it was based on the grounds of commercial confidentiality under the law of confidence and the Data Protection Act. In all the judge dismissed 9 out of the 13 claims against Hello! [prior posts here, here and here]

The judge warned, however, that if parliament did not consider introducing a law of privacy, judges may have to. A development that might only increase the attractiveness of UK courts for plaintiffs suing the media.

In a joint statement, Zeta-Jones and Douglas stated: "We deeply appreciate that the court has recognised the principle that every individual has the right to be protected from excessive and unwanted media intrusion into their private lives."

Looking on the bright side, Hello! stated that: "We are all very pleased that the vast majority of the claims against us have been thrown out and that we have been completely exonerated on the question of conspiracy, commissioning unauthorised photographs, interference with the business, and above all with intention to damage the Douglases."

Hello! magazine's press release here and a summary of Justice Lindsay's findings on each of the claims here.

A determination of damages will be forthcoming. Stay tuned!

Extensive coverage via Guardian Unlimited here, with a summary of the decision here, and a special report on the press and privacy in the UK here.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

NBC Moves Forward With Movie on Former P.O.W.

The New York Times reports that NBC is moving ahead with plans to produce a made-for-TV movie about Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch "with or without paying for the rights to her family's story." According to the article, NBC executives are still trying to secure rights to the former P.O.W.'s story, but fear that any delay is starting the project may allow the network's competitors to beat them to the punch. As a newsworthy story of obvious public interest, NBC is not legally obligated to compensate Pfc. Lynch for her story, but as the article notes, such a film would "lack the first-hand accounts that the subject could bring."

[thanks to Phil Carter for the heads up]

Reality Shows Generate Suits

The New York Daily News reports on the increasing number of suits arising out of reality TV programming here and in the UK. [via Gawker]

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Impeachment Ad Draws Furor

A full-page ad calling for the impeachment of President Bush that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 7, 2003 has resulted in dozens of complaints from readers. The ad called for the impeachment of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft and alleged that the four have committed war crimes and crimes against the Constitution by "order[ing] and direct[ing] the violent overthrow of sovereign states, disappearances, kidnappings, assassinations, summary executions, murders and torture." [coverage via San Francisco Chronicle here]

The Wait Will Soon Be Over

Mr. Justice Lindsay is expected to give his his judgment at the British High Court this Friday in the invasion of privacy suit brought by Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones against Hello! magazine. [coverage here] [prior posts here and here]

If They Win, They Should Think About Opening A Restaurant

The Associated Press via Yahoo! News reports that Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Denzel Washington have filed suit against Fry's Electronics in Los Angeles Superior Court over the alleged unauthorized use of their images in newspaper advertisements. According to the report, each actor is seeking $10 million in damages.

Similar suits have recently been filed by members of the cast of "The Sopranos" against electronics store Best Buy [coverage here] and by Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker [coverage here] and Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman [coverage here] against cosmetics retailer Sephora.

Whew! That's a lot of links!

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Penelope Cruz Files Suit Against Australian Magazine

Taking a page from her boyfriend Tom Cruise's book, actress Penelope Cruz has reportedly filed a defamation action against New Idea, an Australian magazine. While details concerning Cruz's claims were not available, the Associated Press reports that the action relates to a story the magazine published about Cruz and Cruise. The pair have reportedly been dating since the summer of 2001. [coverage from AP via Findlaw.com here]

Second Circuit Affirms Application of Single Publication Rule to Web Site Posting

Today, law.com carried the opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Second Circuit in Van Buskirk v. New York Times Co., affirming the application of the single publication rule to Internet publications. The decision follows the decision of New York's Court of Appeals in Firth v. New York, 747 N.Y.S.2d 69, 72 (2002). [opinion via Second Circuit website here] [prior related post here]

Plaintiff, Robert Van Buskirk, claimed that John L. Plaster, a former Green Beret and author of "SOG: The Secret Wars of America's Commandos in Vietnam," defamed him in a letter critical of a CNN report concerning an alleged U.S. military incursion, Operation Tailwind, which took place in a village in Laos in September 1970, and included, it was alleged, the use of the nerve gas sarin against American soldiers who had deserted. According to Plaster, CNN, relying primarily on Van Buskirk, suggested that American forces used nerve gas during Operation Tailwind. Plaster published the letter on a website on June 8, 1998. On June 18, 1998, The New York Times published a revised version of the letter as an opinion/editorial piece. According to the Second Circuit's opinion, Plaster made a number of statements in the op/ed piece, including (1) the CNN report alleging U.S. forces used nerve gas to attack a Laotian village during Operation Tailwind was untrue; and (2) Van Buskirk was a source for this untrue statement.

While Van Buskirk brought suit against the Times within New York's one-year statute of limitations, he did not file an amended complaint that included claims based on the original Internet posting until January 14, 2000. Despite Van Buskirk's claims to the contrary the court that, in light of Firth, the application of the single publication rule to Internet postings was now a settled matter in New York. Consequently, the court found that Van Buskirk's claims were time-barred.

With respect to the op/ed piece, the court affirmed the district court's finding that the statements in the article were not susceptible of a defamatory meaning. While Van Buskirk argued in his motion papers that the Times piece accused him of misleading CNN, no such charge was made in his complaint. Rather Van Buskirk's complaint alleged that Plaster and the Times failed to sufficiently investigate the truth of the statements attributed to CNN, that Plaster and the Times "ignored the fact that the Plaintiff had never uttered the claims to CNN attributed to him" in the piece, and that had Van Buskirk actually done the things attributed to him in the piece, he could be charged with the commission of war crimes.

Rejecting Van Buskirk's attempts to remedy the deficiencies in his complaint, the court noted, "The article maintains that CNN's accusations are untrue. It also explains that the CNN report attributes those accusations to Van Buskirk. However, the article avoids speculating as to why CNN reported false accusations. It suggests neither that CNN mistakenly attributed the accusations to Van Buskirk, nor that CNN was misled, let alone that CNN was misled by Van Buskirk."

Fun fact of little to no value: The firestorm caused by CNN's 1998 broadcast of the "Operation Tailwind" investigation, entitled "Valley of Death" led to the firing of co-producers, April Oliver and Jack Smith, and ultimately the early termination of the contract between Peter Arnett, who narrated the piece (yes, that Peter Arnett), and CNN. [coverage here and an assessment of the Operation Tailwind report conducted by Floyd Abrams here]

Reporter's Suit Against Ramseys Dismissed

U.S. District Court Judge Julie E. Carnes of the Northern District of Georgia has dismissed a libel suit brought by former Boulder, Colorado journalist Chris Wolf against the parents of JonBenet Ramsey. In his complaint, Wolf alleged that John and Patsy Ramsey defamed him by identifying him as a possible murder suspect in the death of their daughter to police investigators and in their 2000 book "The Death of Innocence." Wolf claimed that the Ramseys pointed the finger at him in order to cover up their involvement in the murder of their daughter. [background here]

While Judge Carnes acknowledged that the Ramseys defamed Wolf by identifying him as a suspect in the murder, she stated that Wolf would be unable to win the case because he could only do so by proving that the Ramseys were, in fact, responsible for the murder of JonBenet. The court stated, "In short, plaintiff's success in this litigation requires him to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that defendants killed their child." And in a boon to the Ramseys' attorney L. Lin Wood, who is representing members of the Ramsey family in a number suits against the media, the judge, after a fairly exhaustive examination of the evidence, stated that she was dismissed Wolf's suit "because there is virtually no evidence to support plaintiff's theory that they murdered their child."

[coverage via Denver Post here]

Fun fact of little to no value: In addition to representing the Ramseys, Attorney L. Lin Wood is also representing Gary Condit in his suit against Dominick Dunne and Richard Jewell in his suit against the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

New York Court Dismisses Politician's Libel Action

A Nassau County, New York politician is vowing to appeal the dismissal of his $60 million libel suit against Long Island's Newsday newspaper. The politician, Nassau County Republican chairman Joseph Mondello, claims that that he was defamed by the headline and a photograph of his house that appeared in connection with a 2001 article about tax assessment reductions given to politically connected county residents. The article headlined, "Nassau Tax Reductions - Chosen Few," discussed charges that the vice chairwoman of Nassau's Independence Party had resigned from a key county commission that handles property tax challenges after officials questioned her personal reduction of assessments for a number of homeowners. They included Mondello and James Kapsis, chairman of the county's Independence Party.

While Mondello admitted that the article contained accurate information, he claimed that it was buried in paragraphs 15 and 17 of the story, while the front page photo of his home along with the headline created the impression that he had been engaged in unethical behavior. Mondello argued that like everyone else seeking a reduction, he had filed the proper paperwork for his assessment reduction, a point that was acknowledged in the Newsday article. Justice John J.J.Jones Jr. found Mondello's claim that the headlines and photographs were defamatory by innuendo to be "unsupportable." The court continued to note, "The headlines concisely describe the crux of the article ... which the plaintiff concedes was truthfully reported. The accurate text of the article dispelled any possible misleading meaning of the headlines."

Mondello's claim that a Newsday photographer had trespassed on his property in order to photograph his home for the article was also dismissed.

[coverage via Newsday here]

Convictions in UK "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" Scam

Updating a prior post here, a UK jury has convicted game show contestant, and army major, Charles Ingram, his wife, Diana, and college lecturer Tecwen Whittock of "procuring a valuable security by deception." The trio nearly pulled off a scam that would have allowed Ingram to walk away as the winner of a million pounds on the UK version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" Ingram used the coded coughs of Whittock, who was seated in the show's "fastest finger" seats, to help select his answers.

The Ingrams each received sentences of 18 months imprisonment suspended and were each ordered to pay fines of £15,000 and costs of £10,000.

Whittock received 12 months suspended, a fine of £10,000 and was ordered to pay £7,500 in costs.

[coverage here]

Law Firm, Former Partner Settle Defamation Suit

law.com reports that a $45 million libel action brought by attorney Frode Jensen against his former law firm Pillsbury Winthrop has been settled. While the terms of the settlement are confidential, the firm released a four sentence statement: "Pillsbury Winthrop deeply regrets making its public statements regarding Frode Jensen. Mr. Jensen was a valued and respected member of the firm and was one of the firm's most productive corporate partners. Mr. Jensen is an accomplished corporate transactional lawyer, and he made many important contributions during his tenure at the firm. Pillsbury wishes him well in all his future endeavors and employment opportunities."

The statement stands in marked contrast to the statements made by Pillsbury that gave rise to the suit. In September 2002, after learning that Jensen was leaving for Latham & Watkins, Pillsbury issued a press release claiming that Jensen's departure came on the heels of sexual harassment allegations that involved him, and "a significant decline in his productivity." The release went so far as to note that Pillsbury had actually "investigated the harassment claims [and] concluded that there was a reasonable likelihood that harassment had occurred and responded with a variety of measures."

Striking back, Jensen filed the $45 million defamation suit, which accused Pillsbury of character and commercial assassination and claimed that a number of Pillsbury partners had been accused of sexual harassment and had never had the allegations publicly disclosed by the firm.

A copy of Jensen's complaint can be found here.

Friday, April 04, 2003

Embedded Correspondent Dies in Iraq

Michael Kelly, the Atlantic Monthly editor-at-large and Washington Post columnist, was killed in a Humvee accident in Iraq. [coverage via Romenesko]

O'Donnell Demands Retraction

CNN.com reports that Rosie O'Donnell has demanded that The National Enquirer retract a story claiming that she and her live-in partner, Kelli Carpenter were about to break up. According to CNN.com, The National Enquirer story, which appeared in the April 15 edition, "detailed a series of bitter fights between the couple and said Carpenter, 35, recently walked out with their 4-month-old daughter, Vivi."

Even if The National Enquirer retracts the story, O'Donnell may still proceed with an action for defamation according to her attorney.

California's retraction statute (which may be in play here) provides that the plaintiff must serve a written notice specifying the defamatory material on the publisher or broadcaster within 20 days of learning of the publication. If a correction is not published or broadcast within three weeks of receiving the retraction demand, in substantially as conspicuous a manner as the original offending statements, the plaintiff may recover general and special damages, and may also recover exemplary damages if actual malice is shown. California Civil Code Sec. 48a.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Mom's Gonna Be So Proud . . .

Just listened to an Internet simulcast of an interview between your humble narrator and Ric Peterson of CJAD 800 AM of Montreal regarding the blog and the Department of Defense regulations concerning the embedding process [prior post here]. Phil Carter of Intel Dump was interviewed earlier about the potential ramifications of Coalition forces using tear gas in Iraq [something he discusses here].

Thanks to Kevin at Tech Law Advisor for passing along the call.

Networks Awarded Attorney's Fees in Copyright Case

U.S. District Court Judge Barbara S. Jones of the Southern District of New York has awarded CNN, ABC and CBS attorney's fees for having to defend against an "objectively unreasonable" copyright lawsuit. The suit was brought by Larry Stern, the president of Video-Cinema Films, who claimed that the networks infringed his copyright in the film "The Story of G.I. Joe" when they included scenes from the film while reporting on the death of actor Robert Mitchum.

According to this report on law.com, Stern did not own the rights to the film at the time of the broadcasts but was considering purchasing the rights. On the day Mitchum died, Stern spent 10 hours watching and recording several different television broadcasts in search of "as many potential targets of litigation as possible." He later acquired the rights in the film and sent demand letters to several news organizations seeking payments of $5,000 or $10,000 for their use of the movie's footage. When CNN, ABC and CBS refused on fair use grounds, Stern filed suit.

In September 2001, Judge Jones granted the networks' motions for summary judgment, finding that the news reports were in the public interest. With Judge Jones granting the motion for fees, the networks now have until April 18 to submit specific fee requests.

Los Angeles Times Photographer Fired Over Image Manipulation

Brian Walski, a staff photographer covering the war in Iraq for the Los Angeles Times has been fired for digitally manipulating a photograph he took in Iraq in order to "improve the composition." The photograph ran in the photo the across six columns on the front page. Coverage via Poynter Online here. The Los Angeles Times' statement here.

Thanks Phil!

Welcome to everyone coming here from Phil Carter's Intel Dump. While I leave the warblogging to obviously more qualified people like Phil and the hard-core journalism and war issues to Romenesko, I have posted a few times at that point where the law, the media and the war intersect. For example, today's law.com addresses the potential liability risks media employers face for having embedded reporters in the field here.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Divided Loyalties in New Jersey

Bruce Rosen of New Jersey's McCusker, Anselmi, Rosen, Carvelli & Walsh is doing one of the things he does best -- defending a defamation action. Unfortunately, the plaintiff in the action is an Asbury Park Press reporter, Carol Gorga Williams. For members of the media defense bar, this is a very sticky situation. As Rosen notes: "As a media lawyer I am loath to bring this [motion to dismiss Williams' case]. We sign a pledge not to sue media entities. I would never sue a media entity. I feel bad about all of this. If this case goes forward, what am I going to have to do, depose the Asbury Park Press editors?"

The case itself involves claims that Deputy Public Defender Robert Tarver and his former lawyer, Red Bank's Linda Kenney, spread false rumors that Williams, who is married, was sleeping with a source who helped her with a series of damaging stories about Tarver's tenure as chief of the Ocean County Office of the Public Defender.

New Jersey Law Journal article via law.com here.

More on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and Neutral Reportage

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on the pending appeal of Norton v. Glenn (with a quote from my former boss at the Media Law Resource Center, Sandy Baron). The article notes that since the doctrine of neutral reportage was first outlined in 1977, "at least 13 states and several federal court jurisdictions have adopted the doctrine, but most - including New Jersey and Pennsylvania - have not."

Prior post here.

War Reporting

Julie Hilden of FindLaw discusses bias in war coverage here. For ongoing coverage of war reporting issues, you should, of course, be checking Romenesko here.

This Is Why What Happens in Prison Should Stay in Prison

The New York Daily News [via Gawker] reports that Robert Downey Jr., Vanity Fair and Condé Nast Publications have been sued in Los Angeles Superior Court for "deflamation of character" by Downey's former cellmate, Charles Bell. Downey mentioned Bell in a Vanity Fair article over two years ago, characterizing Bell as a "recovering pimp" who "talks to satellites." According to the report, Bell "claims the unkind remarks were part of a 'scheme to increase the sinking ego' of Downey and 'to increase the public's opinion of him.'"

Bell, who is representing himself pro se, might want to start by getting himself familiar with California's one year statute of limitations for "deflamation" actions. Cal. Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 340.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Missouri Paper Settles Suit Over Editorial Cartoon

Editor & Publisher reports that The Columbia Daily Tribune of Missouri has settled a libel suit brought by a losing school-board candidate. Plaintiff, Henry Lane claimed that an editorial cartoon that appeared in the paper on March 30, 2001, depicted him as a sexual deviate by showing him wearing women's underwear and high heels and holding a whip. The cartoon was apparently intended to lampoon Lane's attempts to bring corporal punishment back into schools. According to E&P, the paper has agreed to pay Lane's legal fees and printed an apology.

Columbia Daily Tribune's coverage of the settlement here.

Fun fact of little to no value: The "offending" cartoon was drawn by John Darkow. Over the weekend, I saw "Donnie Darko," which I thought was a pretty good film.

I'm Sure Suge Will Understand -- He Seems Like A Reasonable Fellow

A California man, suing as "John Doe," has brought a suit for misappropriation of voice and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Calvin Broadus p/k/a Snoop Dogg over the inclusion of an answering machine message in Snoop's song, "Pimp Slapp'd." According to the complaint, the man left a one-minute message voicing his support for Snoop and his dislike for Snoop's one-time boss Marion "Suge" Knight. Apparently, among other things, he called Knight, who was just released from prison, a "bitch." The plaintiff claims that as a result of the release of the phone message "now fears for his life and that of his elderly mother because it appears that he, as a Compton resident . . . is supporting Broadus in the turf war" against Knight.

Also, according to the complaint, this is the second time Snoop and his record company have been sued for misappropriation of voice. On June 28, 1999, a complaint was filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court alleging that Snoop included plaintiff Geneva Burger's illegally-taped private phone conversation on the album "Sky's The Limit."

The Smoking Gun has the John Doe complaint and a link to the phone message clip. Thanks to Andrew Raff for the link.

Fun fact of little to no value: Doe's attorney is Neville Johnson, one of the few "regulars" of the plaintiff's media bar. He's the attorney who recently filed the case against ABC discussed here. I plan on doing a post on plaintiff's media attorneys at some point (bet you can't wait!).

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