Gaming mogul Steve Wynn is at the eye of a Massachusetts legal hurricane. His decision to build a casino in Charlestown has a sparked a “concern storm” among some residents and representatives. Detractors believe a high-priced casino in the area will prove detrimental to locals; they also want a public vote on the matter.
The clash spawned a defamation lawsuit, in which “privilege” will likely play a key role.
Legal Documents to the Media Lead to Libel Claim
Camp Wynn contends that anti-casino activists got a little too chummy with the media. You see, some legal documents ended up in the hands of the Fifth Estate. How? Nobody knows. But according to Wynn, those documents included falsehoods about his business practices.
What issues is Wynn protesting? What did the “rogue subpoena” say that sparked his defamation lawsuit?
- He allegedly employed two former Massachusetts state troopers;
- Officials may have unethically engaged a criminal about the land on which the casino will sit;
- Team Wynn orchestrated a secret meeting regarding a “felon’s” land interest.
The gaming mogul swears, “Nah-ah; never happened.” And since Wynn guards his reputation like the Titan guards Braavos, he filed a defamation lawsuit. (Wynn did; not the Titan.)
Wynn’s take on the matter:
“No individual or company who presents themselves honestly in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, by any measure of fair play, should be subjected to the defamatory political abuse that we have experienced, and it is our intention to finally deal with it.”
Will “Privilege” Apply In This Casino Defamation Case?
What factors will affect Wynn’s defamation lawsuit? Like any slander or libel plaintiff in the U.S., to emerge victoriously, Wynn must satisfy the four pillars of defamation, which you can read more about here. Within that framework, “privilege” will likely be a hotly debated factor.
So-called “privilege” – in the legal sense – plays a significant role in United States defamation law. Standards vary between jurisdictions, but generally speaking, privileged speech is protected because of an expected or practical need, which serves judicial proceedings, privacy, or the public good.
Hypothetical Example of Privilege in a Defamation Lawsuit
To wit: Let’s say a woman named Jane tells authorities that she thinks her neighbor, Jack, is a child abuser. She says Jack’s kid always has bruises, and she can hear screaming all hours of the day. But it turns out that Jane’s wrong; Jack’s kid is just a loud klutz who spends all day screaming and falling. Peeved at the accusation, Jack sues Jane for defamation. In this case, Jane may be able to claim some sort of “privilege.” After all, officials don’t want to discourage vigilant citizenry in the face of potential criminality. Remember, we’re all supposed to “say something” if we “see something.”
Types of Defamation Privilege
Sometimes, statements made in the course of an employment review are protected by privilege. Same goes for board meetings, professional consultations, and other types of relationships. Doctors and their patients sometimes enjoy certain privilege; as do attorneys and their clients, plus married couples.
Jurisdiction Matters When Litigating Privilege
To be clear: whether or not a statement is privileged depends on the circumstances of the case and jurisdiction.
Absolute Privilege & Qualified Privilege
There are two types of “privilege” – absolute and qualified. Absolutely privileged statements are usually immune from successful defamation actions. In cases involving qualified statements, the plaintiffs’ must meet a higher proof standard to win.
In Wynn’s defamation case, the subpoenas may be classified as privileged legal documents – whether absolute or qualified is yet to be seen. As such, a judge will probably consider:
- First, whether or not the “leak” was allowable (not all leaks are legal; officials made sure of that after being “pwnd by Assange”);
- If the judge says, “No, the leak wasn’t lawful,” then the case will most likely switch gears. But that scenario is unlikely. Possible; but unlikely. If, however, the judge labels the leak “allowable,” then the next question becomes:
- Was publicizing the information admissible? If yes, then Wynn may not triumph. IF the language is deemed absolutely privileged – even if untrue — the suit will die.
- If, however, the statements fall under the umbrella of qualified privileged, then Wynn still has a shot. He’d just have to satisfy a higher level of proof.
Curious if “legal privilege” would apply in your case? Speak to a defamation lawyer about the specifics of your situation.
Chat with A Lawyer about Your Reputation Challenges
Have you been pelted with a defamatory attack? Has someone smeared your reputation?
Ready to fight back?
You have legal options – and not all of them are a lawsuit.
Contact Kelly Warner law. A unique firm where the partners work on every case, at Kelly / Warner, you won’t be in the hands of a novice associate. Let’s talk; we can help.
Arsenault, M. (2015, October 7). Wynn sues for libel in latest salvo over casino – The Boston Globe. Retrieved November 2, 2015, from https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2015/10/06/wynn/KkTzsMIMPkWKo1u5MKd6TI/story.html Steve Wynn’s unwelcome, and unnecessary, libel lawsuit – The Boston Globe. (2015, October 7). Retrieved November 2, 2015, from https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2015/10/07/steve-wynn-unwelcome-and-unnecessary-libel-lawsuit/krMdwlUJsl8kkv62D966bN/story.html