Monthly Archives: February 2014

Twitter Defamation Shocker: Courtney Love For The Win!

Wikipedia photo of Courtney Love to accompany post about her Twitter defamation lawsuits
Image Source: Wikipedia; User: ultra 5280 Flickr

Well, lookie here…Courtney Love won her latest Twitter defamation lawsuit.

Courtney Love’s Social Media Litigation Woes: A History

Back in 2012, notorious trash-tweeter Courtney Love and the “Boudoir Queen,” designer Dawn Simorangkir, were locked in a Twitter libel lawsuit over one of Love’s infamous social media meltdowns.

But before the case made it to trial, they reached a settlement. Love agreed to pay Simorangkir $430,000 and Twitter banned the Hole front-woman for two months.
But the saga didn’t end there.

In classic Courtney Love style, the defamation spat between Love and Simorangkir didn’t end with the 2012 settlement. Last May, while on the Howard Stern Show, Love talked about the Twitter defamation case and claimed to have security camera evidence of the designer stealing. Love also called Simorangkir “a whore.” Howard Stern, the King of Shock Jocks, was even taken aback by her claims. He warned, “You can’t just blurt things out.” Well, Dawn must have been listening, because Simorangkir filed yet another social medial libel suit against Love in September 2013. The issue has yet to be resolved a second time.

Love’s Latest Conspiracy Theory Tweets Result In Twitter Defamation Case

One night, Courtney Love tweeted, “I was f–ing devastated when Rhonda J. Holmes, Esq. of San Diego was bought off.” Why pillory a random lawyer online? Well, you see, Holmes, (at the time), was Courtney’s attorney. And, as you may have already guessed, Courtney and Rhonda’s relationship was suffering through a bit of a professional rough patch.

Love swears the tweet was never meant to be public. She insists she was merely expressing private disappointment in what she believed was her former lawyer’s betrayal. In her signature self-revelatory bluntness, Love also blamed the problematic tweets on a “lack of sobriety.”
Unimpressed with Courtney’s Twitter quips, Holmes filed a Twitter defamation lawsuit against Love, claiming the 140-character rant harmed her professional reputation.

During the trial, Love’s attorney argued:

  1. That the plaintiff didn’t show negligence;
  2. Courtney believed her suspicions about Holmes to be true;
  3. Because of points 1 and 2, Love’s Twitter statements shouldn’t be deemed defamatory.

Twitter Defamation Upset: Twibel Jury Sides With Love

Legal watchers were certain Love would lose this one. But in the end, she emerged victorious. Why? Because the jury unanimously agreed that the answer to the following question had to be “no”:

“Did Rhonda Holmes prove by clear and convincing evidence that Courtney Love knew [her tweets were] false or doubted the truth of it?”

You see, for a statement to be defamatory, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted either negligently or with actual malice. In other words, a statement cannot be defamatory if the would-be defamers believe in the truthiness of their statements. In this instance, the jury believed that Courtney truly thought Holmes was secretly working with a cabal of anti-Courtney estate executives. After all, the Hole singer had been ranting against enemies – imagined or not – for years. (In this particular case, whether or not anti-Courtney Love quislings actually exist doesn’t matter; the fact that Courtney genuinely thinks it exists is the relevant issue.)

After deliberating for several hours, the jury returned with a verdict. While the jurors didn’t believe Love’s statements about Holmes, they did believe Courtney thought she was tweeting the conspiracy gospel. As a result, the gang of 12 ruled in favor of Team Love.

Like the “twinkie defense” before it, perhaps this brilliant bit of defensive arguing also deserves a moniker – let’s go with: “tweet-tin-foil defense.”

Get In Touch With A Twitter Defamation Lawyer

With Twitter’s 140-character limit, the platform is fertile defamatory grounds. If you need to speak with a Twitter defamation lawyer, get in touch today. Kelly Warner has a dedicated social media attorney on staff who can help rectify your situation quickly.

Get in touch today to begin the conversation. The sooner your address the problem, the sooner it can be solved.

Nova Scotia Passes Cyberbullying Law

Will Nova Scotia's new cyberbullying law stand up in court?
Will Nova Scotia’s new cyberbullying law stand up in court?

Nova Scotia’s new Cyber-Safety Act is making headlines, but for all the wrong reasons. While the law was crafted with the best of intentions, the loose and overarching wording of the legislation is leaving many people mystified. The act is so broad; the potential for misuse is almost a guaranteed conclusion.

The Cyber-Safety Act defines cyberbullying as “any electronic communication that might reasonably be expected to humiliate another person or harm their emotional well-being, self-esteem or reputation.”

It sounds great, until you apply some critical thought.

An email or telephone call telling you that you’ve been fired from your job will most likely harm your self-esteem. A text message or post to Facebook advising you that your partner has broken off your relationship will almost certainly harm your emotional well-being. This law, in essence, has made it illegal to post, text, call, or electronically distribute anything upsetting to anyone.

The penalties are also a matter of slack-jawed surprise. Judges have their choice of punishments, including seizing your computer or telephone, your Internet connection can be shut off, and you can be banned from using electronic devices indefinitely. Considering just about anyone who upsets the wrong person by using an electronic device can be punished in this manner, the potential for reverse bullying is huge.

While no one has yet attempted to use Nova Scotia’s Cyber Safety Act nefariously, it’s simply a matter of time. What’s even worse is that an IP address is used as ‘an address’. Meaning if your roommate could be convicted of cyberbullying and your Internet and your computer will be shut off and seized. It’ll be interesting to see this play out in university dormitories, apartment complexes and other venues where virtual strangers are forced to share space and Internet service.

The intention of the act is good, but it’s only a matter of time before sending a text to your neighbor advising them that their dog has been struck by a car is used as reason enough to strip you of your electronics and Internet connection. Changes to the act are the most likely outcome once the loopholes become clear to legislators.

Celebrity Defamation: Dance Mom v. Dance Maven

Dance Moms birthed a defamation lawsuit!
Dance Moms birthed a defamation lawsuit!

Gather round celebrity defamation fans; another reality show slander suit is afoot! I’m always skeptical of these cases, because one can’t help but wonder, “Is it for real or ratings?” But alas, our law demands assumptions of innocence. So, let’s take a look at the reality show defamation case of Dance Mom v. Dance Coach. [Insert Law and Order beats].

A ‘Dance Mom’ Stunt Results In A Celebrity Defamation Suit

The fracas began when Abby Lee and Kelly got “up in each other’s’ grillz” (tm Lucy Watson) at a dance competition in the Bronx. The show was being taped for their reality show, “Dance Moms.” Apparently, shouts were hurled and slaps exchanged. In the end, someone [*cough* realityshowproducers *cough*] called the police and Hyland ended up turning herself in – though she was never handcuffed.

As is the case with many a real-ebrity, after the dramatic slap-down aired (or maybe just before it aired?), Abby Lee took chatfests, like “The View,” to share her tale of primetime combat. So now Hyland is suing Abby Lee for defamation.

Dance Mom’s Lawsuit Says WHAA!?

According to her lawsuit, Hyland wants redress for assault, breach of contract and defamation. Assault because Abby Lee decked her at the dance competition; breach of contract because the spat could jeopardize her show and endorsement contracts; and defamation because according to Hyland, Miller made several false statements of fact on her promotional media tour, including:

  1. Calling Kelly “an alcoholic, being an unfit mother and endangering children.” and
  2. Accusing Hyland of pulling out clumps of Miller’s hair and bruising her face.”

Kelly Hyland’s attorneys also argued for defamation per se because Miller’s alleged false statements of fact were criminal in nature and allegedly injured Hyland in connection with her profession and/or trade business.

Hyland is asking for $5,000,000 in punitive damages, at first glance seems like a ludicrous ask amount from Abby Lee since the dance instructor just recently cleared up a bankruptcy. The sum does, however, make sense when you realize that Hyland also named Collins Avenue Entertainment – the producers of Dance Moms — as a defendant. How is Hyland tying Collins to the claim? According to her lawsuit, Miller was “acting as an agent of Collins” at the time of the confrontation. Moreover, Hyland argues:

“The producers of the show [Collins Avenue Entertainment], in an effort to attract ratings and viewership, encourage and facilitate conflicts between Miller on the one hand and the young girl dancers and their mothers on the other.”

Hyland insists her physical confrontation with Miller was a matter of self-defense. According to Kelly’s libel lawyer, “[Miller] repeatedly lunged toward Kelly gnashing her teeth and loudly attempting to bite Kelly.”

Also, in an attempt to discredit Collins, Hyland hypothesized in her filing that “the producers of the show desired for her to have a warrant issued for her arrest as that would make for intensely dramatic television.”

Well there you have it, folks: another celebrity defamation case for your gossip pleasure. We’ll keep an eye on his one to see if it ever makes it trial. My guess? It’s doubtful. I smell a settlement. Besides, if it is for ratings, the parties can’t take it too far or risk being prosecuted for misappropriation of the justice system.

Speak With A Defamation Attorney

Do you need to speak with a defamation attorney? Contact Kelly/Warner Law today. We have a dedicated slander and libel practice that has helped people from all 50 states, Canada, the UK and Australia. Our lawyers are top-rated, and the firm enjoys a superb BBB rating. Get in touch today to begin the conversation.

kidSAFE Gets FTC’s COPPA Blessing

COPPA lawsuits
kidSAFE got the thumbs’ up from the FTC as a COPPA safe harbor program.

In February, the FTC green-lit the kidSAFE Seal Program as a viable safe harbor alternative under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection ACT (COPPA). The FTC ruled that kidSAFE’s platform allows for the “same or greater protections” to children as those obtained under the COPPA Rule.

COPPA Parental Consent Rules

Under COPPA, websites or applications aimed at children 13 or younger must obtain parental consent before collecting and storing data. Websites must also obtain parental permission before any personal information is released.

What Is The Federal Trade Commission

The FTC was established to keep an eye on unfair or deceptive business practices. Created in 1914, the FTC is the only federal agency that deals with both consumer protection and competition. Over the years, Congress has widened the scope of the FTC’s purview – especially when it comes to Internet law matters.

Federal legislators passed COPPA in 2000. Since then, it’s been updated several times – most recently last year. In brief, the act specifies:

  • that parental consent must be obtained for any personal data from children aged 13 and under;
  • the ways in which consent may be obtained; and
  • the responsibilities of the website operator regarding the safety and privacy
    of children online.

New COPPA Provisions

With the new provision, website operators must allow parents to view any data collected from their children. Parents can delete data but can’t otherwise change it. The FTC has also established guidelines to make it easier for website directors to comply with the new program, like requiring parents to use a credit card when establishing identity or providing a toll-free phone number that parents can use to confirm consent.

COPPA Lawyer

Do you have a website that is popular with kids? Whether or not you intended for your site to be a children’s site matters not in the eyes of the FTC. If a minor visits your page, and you collect data or track said minor with cookies — inadvertently or on purpose —  and you don’t have the proper COPPA provisions in place, technically, you’re in violation of the law.

To make sure you’re compliant, contact Kelly Warner Law today for a website audit. The couple hundred dollars it will cost for a COPPA lawyer to review your site is a drop in the bucket to the millions you could be fined for violating COPPA regulations. Get in touch today.

Internet Harassment Twist: Self-Trolling Will Get You Jailed

Internet harassment troll
Self-Trolling: A New Type Of Internet Harassment?
  • A woman was arrested for trolling herself online.
  • She Set up fake social media accounts using pictures of family members.
  • Police cracked the case with the help of a computer forensic specialist.

Harassing and bullying other people online can earn you some time in the slammer, but Michelle Chapman may very well be the first person locked up for trolling herself.

Internet Harassment Using Phony Profiles

Over the course of a year, Chapman created a series of fake profiles using the names and photographs of her estranged family members. She then logged into these profiles and harassed her own account, leaving hundreds of vitriolic comments. Seemingly no one was immune to her framing attempts, as she created doppelganger accounts for her father, stepmother and other members of her family.

All of this would likely have been overlooked as an elaborate, petty, attention-getting scheme. It could have ended there had Chapman not then gone to the authorities and filed complaints against her family members on separate occasions between February and October of 2011. As a consequence, warnings were issued to several of her family members. Her stepmother faced an even worse ordeal, being arrested and questioned after one of Chapman’s numerous complaints to police.

Computer Forensic Specialist Cracks The Case

Finally, computer forensics specialists cracked the case. They were able to trace all of the accounts and offensive postings back to Chapman, which exonerated her family and brought charges upon herself. Judge Christopher Harvey Clark sentenced her to 20 months in jail, banned her from contacting her victims and also forbid her to own a computer after her release. The computer she used to commit her crimes was also confiscated.

Chapman’s husband is choosing to stand by her. He believes his wife suffers from mental illness and her actions were a cry for help. Chapman did admit to the crime and expresses remorse for her actions.

While regulations exist to protect people from Internet harassment and cyberbullying, Chapman is among the first to be jailed for attempting to frame other people for Internet harassment. The strange details of the case serve as a cautionary tale for anyone seeking revenge by way of self-trolling.

Internet Harassment Lawyer

Although lawmakers are still playing catch-up with technology, Internet harassment laws do exist. It is illegal to threaten people online, even yourself. If you are being e-stalked or otherwise harassed online, and you want to take legal action, get in touch. Our law firm has successfully handed dozens of cyber harassment cases. We can help you, too.

Revenge Porn Law Update: Colorado Seeks New Law

Colorado is contemplating a cyber harassment law that seeks to add protections for revenge porn and cyberbullying of minors.
Colorado is contemplating a cyber harassment law that seeks to add protections for revenge porn and cyberbullying of minors.
  • Colorado is the latest state to propose a ‘revenge porn’ bill covering minors.
  • Some state legislators think the ‘revenge porn’ law is unnecessary.
  • Mugshot websites are also in politicians’ sights.

With social media on the rise, Colorado lawmakers are considering formalizing a new law they hope will curtail online bullying, cyber harassment and revenge porn. Several issues currently garnering attention have already been crafted into bills that the Colorado state legislature is considering signing into law — yet wrinkles still need to be ironed out.

Colorado’s Proposed Anti-Cyberbullying Bill

The first bill proposed makes bullying a minor, through social media, a misdemeanor. In the past, cyberbullying has been blamed for the suicides of teens around the country. By passing this bill into law, those who inflict “serious emotional distress on a minor” using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social networks could face criminal charges. In other states, such crimes can fall under existing laws. For example, in Florida, police charged two teen tormentors with felony aggravated stalking after the girl they had targeted online tragically committed suicide.

Colorado’s Proposed Revenge Porn Bill

The second proposal deals with so-called ‘revenge porn,’ wherein jilted lovers seek revenge by posting intimate photos of their ex-paramours online. The bill in Colorado deals exclusively with minors, who are often humiliated by the distribution of the photos. There is also concern that minors targeted by such revenge may also have their images used as child pornography. So far, California and New Jersey are the only states that have laws protecting children exploited in such a way. Colorado hopes to become the third. While the point of the bill is looked upon favorably, opponents argue that laws already exist to protect minors from child pornography and that another is unneeded.

Colorado Looking To Curtail Mugshot Website Extortion

Lawmakers want Colorado citizens to have the right to remove their mugshots from the web. Utah and Georgia have taken similar steps and outlawed the practice of posting mugshots online. Some websites charge hundreds of dollars to remove the photographs. To curtail this punishment of the innocent and prevent the financial shake-down, the bill would make it possible for those whose pictures are shown to have them removed for free upon request.

As the Internet continues to expand exponentially, new kinds of crimes will create headlines. Although there is concern of overlap between existing laws and the new bills, these proposals have the potential to enlighten any legal ‘gray areas’ left by current policies.

Revenge Porn and Cyber Harassment Lawyer

Do you need a lawyer to handle an online harassment situation? Contact Kelly Warner Law today. We have considerable experience with revenge porn and Internet harassment cases. The longer you wait, the more damage can be done.

Texas Defamation Case Study: Teacher v. Students

Teacher Texas DefamationThis is not a case about being hot for the teacher – or a teacher being a little too hot for his or her students. Oh no, this teacher vs. student lawsuit is one for the textbooks, not gossip magazines. English teacher Elizabeth Ethredge, of the Waller Independent School District, filed a Texas defamation lawsuit against two of her students, Demi Alyssa Gray and Dylan Noble Wells. Ethredge insists Gray and Noble twisted tales about classroom events in retaliation for being disciplined. But Gray and Noble insist the teacher acted inappropriately in class.

Texas Defamation: A Big Tale Of A Teacher & Two Rebellious High School Students…

Our Texas defamation tale begins in the high school English classroom of Elizabeth Ethredge – an 8-year veteran of the Waller Independent School District. The month was November; the year, 2012. According to Ethredge, she was giving her students a State-mandated lesson in oral storytelling. The seasoned teacher opted to regale her class with a tale about her son being robbed at another school in the district.

According to two of her students, Gray and Noble, five months after the lesson, Ethredge encouraged students to hone their spy skills, head over to Facebook, and avenge her son’s honor by trying to purchase goods from the person Ethredge believed robbed her — as Tyrion Lannister might say — “baby boy.”

The curious part about this case, though, is that the students waited months to “snitch” on their teacher. Why? Well, if you believe Ethredge’s side of the story, they only did it in retaliation for her sending them to the principal’s office over breaking school dress code rules and being disruptive in class.

And based on the available evidence, Ethredge may be right. For soon after Gray and Noble chatted with administrators, during school hours one of them posted to Facebook, “Hey Ethredge ‘I threw stones at your house’ what you got for me big badass?’ Case closed!” Other student responded, “Hahahahah bitch ain’t got SHIT!”

…Which Uncommonly Results In Texas Defamation Litigation

Soon after the two students ratted on their teacher, the school district suspended Ethredge with pay. Soon after that, administrators seriously considered termination. As a result, she decided to file an Internet defamation case.

Filed at the Harris County Court, Ethredge is asking for punitive damages, citing defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Ethredge’s claim averred that the students’ actions were a “deliberate and malicious intent to injure plaintiff’s reputation.” To temper any speculation about the nature of what happened in her classroom, Ethredge’s suit explains that the “oral storytelling exercise was directly related to and in compliance with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the State Standards for curriculum in public schools in Texas.”

In order to win this case, Ethredge will most likely have to prove material harm – as you can’t win a defamation lawsuit over hurt feelings. It’s interesting to note that Texas does not have a false light tort – if it did, Ethredge may have been able to file a stronger case. That’s not to say she doesn’t have a chance at winning this one – especially since administrators are talking termination — but being able to add a false light charge would put more “meat” on the proverbial bone.

Do you need a defamation lawyer? Contact Kelly Warner Law today. Even though we’re based in Arizona, we’re licensed in the Lone Star State and handle all manners of Texas defamation lawsuits.

Nancy Grace Defamation: The Almost-Kennedy Case

nancy grace defamation case
Nancy Grace is getting in the defamation ring with a Kennedy relative.

In the words of attorney Stephan E. Seeger, Nancy Grace may have finally “put [her] foot in [her] mouth” a little too far. And to sensationalize matters a tad more, a previously convicted member of The Kennedy Clan may be the one to nail Nancy Grace for defamation.

Uh oh, ya’ll! A defamation lawsuit landed on Nancy Grace’s anchor desk. Michael C. Skakel – a Kennedy cousin – wants to punish the HLN star for stretching the truth a little too far.

What happened?

In short, back in 1975, teenager Martha Moxley was murdered in Connecticut. For years, the case went unsolved. In 2000, Michael C. Skakel, Ethel Kennedy’s nephew, was convicted of the crime. In 2013, however, a judge overturned the ruling and granted Skakel a new trial. As you might suspect, Nancy Grace has been on the case. But Skakel thinks Nancy and co. didn’t just stretch the truth when discussing his situation, but snapped it – so he’s suing for defamation.

Background: The Murder and Investigation

On Halloween eve, 1975, 15-year-old Martha Moxley was murdered. The following morning, her body was found underneath a tree near her Greenwich, CT home. At first, law enforcement officials pegged Thomas Skakel as the prime suspect. Suspicion then turned to the Skakels’ live-in tutor who’d only recently come to Greenwich – but he was also eventually cleared.

Despite multiple suspects, police never solved the case. Years passed. The case remained unsolved, and the Skakel adults shipped Michael off to The Elan School — a private, behavior modification, therapeutic boarding school in Maine.

Fast forward a few decades. The case remained unsolved – but it did attract the interest of crime writers and murder mystery enthusiasts.

As the years lumbered on, key figures in the case changed their stories. Eventually, two former Elan classmates of Michael Skakel agreed to testify against the almost-Kennedy. According to his Elan classmates, Skakel confessed to Martha’s murder. One witness swore he bragged, “I’m going to get away with murder. I’m a Kennedy.”

In 2000, Massachusetts authorities indicted the divorced 40-year-old father of one. Skakel lost and was sent to MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, CT.

But that’s not the end.

In Oct. 2013 a Connecticut Superior Court Judge Thomas A. Bishop overturned Skakel’s conviction on the grounds if ineffective counsel. Skakel was released on $1.2 M bail and is now awaiting his next hearing.

What Nancy Grace Said That Led To A Slander Lawsuit

As the former prosecutor is known to do, Grace opted for the shock when discussing Skakel’s situation with another “legal analyst.” Basically, Grace heavily intimated that Skakel’s DNA had to be at the scene of the crime because he was masturbating in a tree very near to where the victim was found.  The exact exchange was as follows:

Nancy Grace: “Isn’t it true that the Kennedy cousin apparently was up in a tree masturbating trying to look into her bedroom window?”

Beth Karas: “Well, his DNA was found, yes, up in the tree.”

Nancy Grace: “Beth, I love the way you put it so delicately, ‘his DNA,’ you know it was sperm.”

Beth Karas: “Correct.”

Why Does Skakel Say Nancy Grace’s Statement Defamatory?

Skakel, however, had a problem with Nancy Grace’s characterization and filed a defamation lawsuit against her, Karas, in addition to HLN, Time Warner and Turner Broadcasting producers.

What is Moral Turpitude?

Moral turpitude is conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals. In Urban Dictionary parlance: all sexual acts.

Skakel’s argument turns on three main points:

  1. No DNA evidence, nor talk of masturbation, made it into the trial; so Skakel says, Nancy Grace should shut her proverbial pie hole.
  2. Saying Skakel was “found” at the scene of the murder is light years away from admitting “he climbed a tree near the Moxley’s house to masturbate on the night of the murder.”
  3. It doesn’t matter if Skakel’s reputation is already ruined because he has a possible re-trial on the horizon and will need an unbiased jury to prevail in said case. As such, being accused of acts of “moral turpitude” could have a significant and devastating material impact on Skakel and “all other discretionary benefits that he may, as a matter of law or right, seek in prison or in our Courts.”

Skakel’s attorney expressed the negative impact of TV procedurals’ take on DNA testing and evidence. He explained:

“Look, when you see the letters DNA and put that in any story and hang that around any defendant’s neck, the whole world believes that there is DNA evidence that is lock, stock and done.  It’s totally misleading. Anyone who is watching that show now forms the belief that the DNA was there: We all know he’s guilty, period.”

Team Nancy Grace’s Counter Arguments

Team Nancy Grace is fighting back with the following counter arguments:

  1. The conversation between Grace and Karas was not defamatory because it was “substantially true.”
  2. Skakel’s reputation is already shot to smithereens, so the defendants’ on-air musings wouldn’t have done any serious damage.

Whether or not Nancy Grace will escape Skakel’s lawsuit is yet to be seen. It’s a tricky situation since there is a sliver of truth to Grace’s and Kara’s reporting; however, considering the circumstances, what was said and what was actually presented in court are radically different – and with a new trial on the horizon, Skakel may just squeak this one out.

Do you need to speak with a defamation lawyer? Kelly Warner’s slander and libel law practice is established, efficient and knowledgeable. We’ve seen every type of defamation case you can think of. Whether you’ve been accused of defamation or are looking to sue for defamation or trade libel, get in touch today. If you want to learn a little more about us before taking the plunge, please go here, here, here and here to read up on our attorneys and our firm.