I don’t even know what to make of this:
A Minneapolis blogger was ordered on Friday to pay $60,000 in damages to an ex-community leader who lost his job because of the blogger’s reporting — even though that reporting was accurate. John Hoff connected Jerry Moore, who was employed by the University of Minnesota to study mortgage foreclosures, to a mortgage fraud. Even though the accusations turned out to be true, the jury ruled against Hoff in a suit and awarded Moore $35,000 in lost wages and $25,000 for emotional distress.
It was a bad day for the First Amendment.
So if you lie about someone, they can sue and win, but if you tell the truth, they can sue you and win, too?
I’m a total layman here, but I always thought that truthfulness was a valid defense against liability for libel or slander. Maybe the basic facts were true but unproven allegations or insinuations were added and considered to be actionable?
ETA from the link, I see that it wasn’t a libel suit (because truthfulness indeed is a defense against a libel suit) – but I don’t see how an accusation that another’s claims about you have hurt you is anything but a libel suit.
ETA Postscript: How great is it that editing posts is working again, without even having to open the edit link in a new tab?
@Warren Terra: The truth is an absolute defence for libel. He wasn’t sued for libel, he was sued for tortious interference or something like it.
That sounds like horseshit. I would think it would be overturned on appeal.
Culture of Truth
I don’t see this judgment holding up.
Judas Escargot (aka ninja fetus with a taste for bruschetta)
I was going to look up the judge so I could cry “corruption!”, then I saw it was a fucking jury trial???
Crispy fetuses on a stick. WTF is wrong with people.
Emotional distress? If I call John Boehner orange, can he sue?
I don’t see a problem with this, all the lawyers involved made money.
Acording to James O’Keefe you can lie about someone, get them fired and come back and make more money.
Will never be sustained.
Apparently, the Jury Pool available in Minneapolis is dumber than a sack of hair.
If the blogger wore his pajamas into court, and did not wipe off the cheetoh dust, he has only himself to blame.
What about the emotional distress of the people whom Moore defrauded? What the fuck was that jury thinking – or were they all busy texting during the trial?
Mistake there Cole:
If you lie about someone, they can NOT sue and win.
Why else do you think Fox is still in business?
@Judas Escargot (aka ninja fetus with a taste for bruschetta): My guess, without knowing a darn thing more, is that the judge gave the jury faulty instructions and that will be the basis for the case being overturned on appeal.
The reporting is scant, but it looks like there was some evidence the blogger wanted the guy to lose his job, which could under some generous constructions of the law be tortious interference (although it should still be privileged). O’Keefe should be worried about the same principle applying to him (or at least should keep quiet about “collecting scalps”.)
@Calouste: Right, if he had only called the guy a goat fucking child molester he could have gotten a job on CNN instead of being sued and losing.
Hoff should now institute 12 “tortious interference” suits against the jurors. This has all the makings of the next new thing in ponzi schemes.
It’s a small world- I actually had classes in college with Hoff back in the day. He was elected to the city council in Grand Forks, ND, and then quickly proceeded to get recalled after angering some of the locals. I didn’t mind him too much, but he seems to have a tendency to rub people the wrong way. Such is the gadfly lifestyle, I suppose. He caused quite the hullabaloo while he was here.
The GF paper had a rundown of his time in ND, and some of his previous activities.
“GOP ratfuckers should be worried” and “judicial principles apply”.
It’s a professional comedian’s trick never to tell more than one joke in a sentence, lest you spoil them both.
The Political Nihilist Formerly Known As Kryptik
What the fuck.
No, seriously, what the fuck, how does this even work, and what the fuck is ‘Tortious Interference’ that it’d go to a fucking jury trial? Can someone please explain this to me?
He’s appealing the ruling, and I really can’t fathom that it wouldn’t end up being ruled in his favor. I was shocked that he lost. Jury seemed kind of out to lunch on this one.
But, if that’s not the case, rest assured that this is Johnny Northside, and if you’ve ever read his blog you’d know that like him or not, this guy is a complete bad ass with an insane ego. He’s going to fight this tooth and nail no matter how far he has to go.
What’s that Dickens Quote? Something about “If that is what the law supposes, then the law is an ass”
I love Dickens.
The OP raises a question for me: has anyone been prosecuted for mortgage fraud – or was it so ubiquitous that it’s the legal equivalent of spitting on the sidewalk? It strikes me that if you, or I, were “connected” to some sort of fraud we’d wind up in front of a judge.
The ‘tortious interference’ was the same line of attack that was used against CBS’s ’60 Minutes’ Jeffrey Wigand interview
Remember, Freedom of Speech does not mean freedom from consequences.
Now if you want to see something really stupid from the Twin Cities-try a company enforcing a non-compete clause for dogwalking.
@MikeJ: I even looked up tortious interference and I don’t really get how it applies in a case like this.
@Tokyokie: Even if it’s overturned on appeal, isn’t the defendant out a bunch of money paying his lawyer?
The solution for those kind of cases (from a country with a sane legal system) is that companies can enforce more or less any non-compete clause they like as long as they pay the ex-employee for the duration of said non-compete clause. Not surprisingly, very, very few non-compete clauses are enforced there.
@Dennis SGMM: Maybe not the big dogs.
And so on and so forth.
This isn’t the level of prosecution, though, which is at the level of systemic problems in larger companies and such.
It sounds to me like a case of the black community in North Minneapolis circling the wagons against a white community activist they see as targeting one of their own, despite clear evidence that they are protecting a shady character.
Two things: in all likelihood, the reversible error will not be the jury’s decision, but the instructions on the elements of tortious interference, assuming that the objection is properly preserved.
As for privilege, that likely did not apply, because it usually deals with legitimate competition. I do not know the elements of Minnesota state law and am too lazy to look them up, but it strikes me there was a legal error by the Judge allowing the claim to go forward.
Having not seen the briefs and motions filed in the case, it is possible that the guy can lose on appeal if his lawyers did not preserve the error for appellate review. I am assuming it would have been by way of a motion in limine to bar evidence at trial. Not sure how denials of summary judgments are handled in minnesota because that is likely the last main legal brief filed on the issue.
Yevgraf (fka Michael)
IAAL, but have only dabbled on the peripheries of this area of law. As I understand it from the local guys who do a lot of this, the “defamer” almost always loses in front of the jury, and the decisions have to get flipped on appeal.
Eugene Volokh blogs that this is clearly unconstitutional and will be overturned on appeal, and I have little doubt that he is right. The First Amendment guarantees your right to speak the truth, even if it gets someone fired.
This jury is made up of people who vote.
think about that
People should stop slagging the jury until they read the judge’s instructions to the jury. If the instructions provided a roadmap to reach this outcome, then it is not their fault.
@Tokyokie: This. Without knowing MN law, the general definition for tortious interference requires a bit more than what was reported here. Best guess here is over-simplified jury instructions. Does MN cases?
@Florida Cynic: Complete I can haz post. Not sure what happened to the end of mine, which should have read: “Does MN publish civil case transcripts?”
Let me guess, was this trial in Michelle Bachmann’s district?
You can buy case transcripts from the court reporter. Since that is one of the first steps in filing an appeal, maybe Johnny Northside will publish them on his blog.
That’s wrong. There may be consequences such as people thinking your an idiot or evil, but freedom of speech means the government cannot punish you for speaking. Enforcing a tort judgment against someone for their speech is a punishment. The famous case of NY Times v. Sullivan discusses this principle.
By my count I’m the third lawyer to chime in, and I’m undoubtedly the shittiest one, but since people have asked, here are my meager contributions. First, ditto eric and Yevgraf (30 and 31, supra).
Second, while it’s true that truth is an absolute defense (as eighth-graders are taught in social studies class), it’s only a defense to defamation. (Defamation generally is harming someone’s reputation by the knowing statement of false facts, whether by speaking (slander) or writing (libel).) The First Amendment protects speech, but it doesn’t thereby offer a defense against prosecution or lawsuit where the only action of the defendant was to speak. Criminal conspiracy can be committed by mere speech, for instance, or securities fraud.
Third, the jury specifically did not find the defendant liable for defamation. Rather, he was found liable for tortious (wrongful) interference with a contract. If I recall, it’s an old common law claim along the following lines. Let’s say you have a lucrative business deal with a customer, under a business contract that’s in force for three more years. If I, as your competitor, induce your customer to break his contract with you and enter a new relationship with me (presumably at a lower price), then you can sue your customer for breach of contract, and also you can sue me for tortious interference. Now, notice that the actions that constitute the tort are all speech; nevertheless, the First Amendment does not categorically bar them. The plaintiff in this case had an employment contract with his employer; the defendant made a communication to the employer; the employer terminated the employment contract.
Fourth, just because the First Amendment doesn’t stand in the way of all such lawsuits doesn’t mean it doesn’t offer any protection. Eugene Volokh’s summary of the law (Steve at 32, supra) is far more intelligent than anything I could offer, and I recommend it. If I can add one more note, though, it’s that the help an appeals court can offer is likely to be really, really frustrating and expensive to obtain. There’s a sort of dynamic in these sorts of cases where the jury hears the evidence, gets a set of inherently confusing instructions from the judge, decides that the defendant did something wrong, even if they don’t really understand the legal issues involved. After that, the appeals courts are stuck between a rock and a hard place, because it’s really important to show deference to juries’ findings of facts, but also really important to protect free speech. Courts usually find a way to get to the right answer, but it involves a lot of legal fictions, because the jury verdict has to be shown all due respect. Hoff might win (Prof. Volokh thinks he will), but it could easily cost him a substantial legal fee just to go through all the necessary steps.
I doubt it necessarily applies in this case, but there is also a common law tort of public disclosure of private facts which allows an individual to sue when someone maliciously publicizes damaging private information, even if it’s true.
The defendant did not tell the truth on bulk of his statements. He was found to be partially right on a give up question that all parties already knew.
If a public figure is corrupt, why is it considered malicious to publicize it? It’s not like the blogger publicizes stuff about the public figure’s sex lives or something. I think your job would fall outside the purvey of “private information”, wouldn’t it?
This country is terminally ill. We are just waiting for president kevorkian now.
Paul in KY
@harokin: @Mary: It could be that, as Mr. Moore was not considered a ‘public figure’.
Verdict sounds messed up (to me).
Edit: It could also be that the jury saw themselves in Mr. Moore & wanted to show that they would be against any blogger revealing private details about them.