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The Courts Censorship Your Rights Online

After Online Defamation Suit, Dismissal of Malicious Prosecution Claim Upheld 267

Posted by timothy
from the that's-a-shame dept.
Christoph writes "I'm the Slashdot user who was sued for defamation (and six other claims) by a corporation over negative statements on my website. I prevailed (pro-se) in 2008. The court found the other side forged evidence and lied. In 2009, I sued the other party's lawyers for malicious prosecution/abuse of process (the corporation itself is dissolved/broke). One defendant had stated in writing their client was lying, but the trial court dismissed my claim for lack of evidence. I appealed, and this Tuesday the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal, completely ignoring the defendant's written admission (and other evidence). They further found it was not an abuse of process to sue to 'stop the publication of negative information and opinion.'"
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After Online Defamation Suit, Dismissal of Malicious Prosecution Claim Upheld

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  • by goodmanj (234846) on Friday November 12, 2010 @08:03PM (#34212198)

    The problem is, you tried to sue a laywer. The funny thing about judges: they used to be lawyers. You remember that old joke claiming that sharks don't eat lawyers out of "professional courtesy"? Same goes for judges. You can sue a doctor, a corporation, or your ex-wife, fine, but if you sue a laywer the entire legal profession closes ranks and roots for the home team.

  • by brachiator (867046) on Friday November 12, 2010 @08:11PM (#34212256)
    Looks like the OP settled with the non-lawyers early on the MP claims. What result there?

    As for the lawyers, the sole piece of evidence the OP seems to have presented that the lawyers knew their clients were lying is a late-October 2007 note. This note was written well after the trial commenced. It doesn't indicate that the lawyers knew or had reason to know from jump-street that the clients were lying. It indicates only (if anything) that perhaps they were not aggressive enough in doing fact investigation or in terminating the litigation already underway.

    Am I missing something? If not, the courts' decisions appear to be decent.
  • Re:Well done! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Shakrai (717556) * on Friday November 12, 2010 @08:13PM (#34212274) Journal

    What the hell were you charged with that your legal bills totaled up to six figures? I got charged with a felony in two different jurisdictions and had to deal with two different cases and my legal bills only came to around $8,000. Granted, we beat it BEFORE trial (thank god for the Grand Jury....) but it would not have accumulated to >$100,000 even if it had gone that far.

    BTW, my lawyer saved my ass. I would not have walked away from my situation without a criminal record if I had tried to do it on my own. Don't trash the whole profession just because you hired a lousy legal team.

  • Tough Call (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Alaren (682568) on Friday November 12, 2010 @08:15PM (#34212286)

    Right, so... I'm a lawyer. Without knowing more about the case it would be hard to say "they got it right" or "they got it wrong," but (while I often mistrust my profession that much more for seeing it from the inside) it's important for people to understand the tensions at play here.

    American lawyers are often put in a bind by professional responsibility. On the one hand, we have a duty to the court--of candor, honesty, and to assist in reaching justice without placing endue burden on the judicial system. On the other, we have duties to our clients--from confidentiality and competence to doing as the client asks.

    Fulfilling both duties simultaneously can be very difficult. We have some leeway; for example, trial strategy is often something a lawyer can override a client's wishes on. But if you agree to represent someone, you have to zealously represent their cause. And if we are too quick to hold lawyers personally responsible for client overreaching, then lawyers become reluctant to advocate zealously for a cause. Sometimes it's easy to look back and say, "that lawyer should have known better than to bring this to court," but more often it is difficult and courts have strong reasons to give lawyers the benefit of the doubt--some good, some bad.

    In the end, lawyers are held responsible for their--and even their clients'--actions all the time. We get fined, suspended, disbarred, held liable, and otherwise disciplined on a regular basis. Does it happen often enough? Sometimes I doubt that. But chalking decisions like this up to "professional courtesy" or a broken legal system is overhasty.

  • Re:Okay. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 12, 2010 @08:15PM (#34212290)

    And it has far reaching implications.

    They further found it was not an abuse of process to sue to 'stop the publication of negative information and opinion.'"

    That line alone shows that they basically see suing people as a way to stop free speech - and that it should be allowed, even if the law isn't technically on their side. Basically, abusing the system to get people to stop saying things you don't like is considered legal.

    Can you imagine how many people have been in a situation like Chris, but haven't had the money to go into a legal battle with them?

    It sucks indeed.

    IANAL, but why not contact the ACLU? I'd think they'd love to take up this case.

  • Re:Well done! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 12, 2010 @08:19PM (#34212310)

    Holy crap only $8000? I have spent literally hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past 7 years or so on 3 lawsuits and a handfull of other matters. The last civil case, which almost made it to trial cost me about $100,000 of legal fees.

    Hell, I have a zoning issue that has cost me over $4,000 so far and we are very, very early along that one.

    $250 - $350 an hour adds up mighty fast. It's like a hooker only the only person getting fucked is you.

    How appropriate... the captcha is "lonely".

  • by www.sorehands.com (142825) on Friday November 12, 2010 @08:21PM (#34212328) Homepage

    Judges don't want the loser of every case suing for it.

    Ain't that the truth.

    In California there is a provision of the Civil Code of Procedure, Section 473(b) which permits a mandatory vacation of default of dismissal which results from attorney fault. If the attorney really screws up, the Court must grant this. The decisions of this is so that it reduces litigation that results from attorney malpractice.

  • Context... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Alaren (682568) on Friday November 12, 2010 @08:25PM (#34212358)

    That line alone shows that they basically see suing people as a way to stop free speech - and that it should be allowed, even if the law isn't technically on their side. Basically, abusing the system to get people to stop saying things you don't like is considered legal.

    Read that again. The court didn't say you could prevail. Only that suing--that is, filing suit--to stop the spread of negative information is not per se an abuse of process. Were it otherwise, you couldn't sue someone for libel or slander. Notice that this is a different thing than prevailing at trial.

    Can you imagine how many people have been in a situation like Chris, but haven't had the money to go into a legal battle with them?

    This is by far the more troubling consideration. The expense of legal process makes every one of us a potential corporate serf, and it would be nice if we could find an effective way to prevent people with money from wielding the legal system like a club. But if we called that "abuse of process," then it would be impossible for the rich to seek justice against the poor--which makes no more sense and arguably less. It would be nice if we could just say, "well, obviously this corporation could not possible have believed it would prevail on the merits, and was just throwing money at the problem, so that's clearly abuse of process," but the standard of proof for intent is yet another obstacle that brings with it a host of other problems.

  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Friday November 12, 2010 @08:30PM (#34212394) Homepage Journal

    Who gives a shit. Chris runs a stock photos website. His business model is entirely money for jam and if ya can't get it, sue. Did you read the part of the judgment where it outlines the monetary demands and legal threats Chris made? This is classic stand-over copyright tactics and all these slashtards are applauding it because Chris has presented himself as being the little guy who took on the big corporation and won.

    My opinion stands.. you're a copyright troll. If it wasn't for copyright law, no-one would ever give you a dime. That's the definition of non-fair trade to me.

  • Re:Well done! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by droopus (33472) * on Friday November 12, 2010 @08:34PM (#34212418)

    $8,000? Damn, that's great. Hey I agree, there are good lawyers, I just was unlucky enough to not know any. I didn't hire a team at all. I had FIVE individual lawyers, one when I was arrested, who I fired when he failed to challenge the search (which was laughable), then another when the feds came for me, and the state dropped the charges. Him I fired after he blew a bail hearing HARD. Fucking moron, he pulled out some forensic psychiatrist who started challenging the case merits in a bail hearing. Asshole got me held without bail in Feds. The AUSA had a field day...he was actually laughing.

    I studied fed law for the four years I did in the feds and if I had known then what I know now, I never would have spent a night in jail. And I don't think my attorneys were stupid, just amoral. Hey, if you can get a guy off for a bad search after a day, you won't earn much. Better to have to "fight" and charge $75k.

    Here's the worst part: I spent almost $300,000, and still plead out. From the Alan Ellis [alanellis.com] site:

    "Nearly 94% of all federal criminal defendants will plead guilty. Of the remaining 6% who go to trial, as many as 75% will be convicted; thus 97% of all federal criminal defendants will be sentenced. 80% of defendants will receive jail or prison time." If the feds want you, you're theirs.

  • by Grond (15515) on Friday November 12, 2010 @09:05PM (#34212592) Homepage

    but if you sue a laywer the entire legal profession closes ranks and roots for the home team.

    Patently untrue. Case in point: legal malpractice suits, which are common and involve a lot of money: $4 billion per year back in 1995 [heinonline.org]. I assure you it's more today.

    To the extent this guy got screwed it was because he tried to handle his case pro se. Just one little example of his mistakes: "The fact that I prevailed on all seven counts while representing myself in court pro-se further suggests they lacked probable cause." Whether someone is representing themselves or are represented by counsel is generally immaterial in Minnesota, as in most jurisdictions. "Pro se litigants are generally held to the same standards as attorneys." Heinsch v. Lot 27, Block 1 For's Beach, 399 N.W.2d 107, 109 (Minn. App. 1987).

    Anyway, this is kind of a silly post for Slashdot. The plaintiff's appeals are not exhausted. He can make a motion for a rehearing, a rehearing en banc, and appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

  • Re:Not too surprised (Score:3, Interesting)

    by offsides (1297547) on Friday November 12, 2010 @09:13PM (#34212656)

    He has to prove that the lawyers had ill intent for him. Defending their client, even while knowing he is lying, isn't against the rules, it just opens them up to the liability. But if they were pushing the issue because it allowed them to hurt the OP, then yeah, the should be held accountable.

    Um, the trick is that the lawyers in question weren't defending anyone - they were representing the plaintiff in an attempt to win money/concessions from the defendant. And while a defense attorney is supposed to defend their client to the best of their ability, even they aren't allowed to outright lie to the court about something they know to be false.

    That being said, I'm not sure if the OP would have prevailed at trial, but cases are supposed to be dismissed either because of facts that are not in dispute, or rules of law that require the case to be dismissed. If the only issue is that the facts are in dispute, that the whole purpose of a trial.

    My biggest issue with this ruling is the judges statement that attempting to suppress protected speech is a legitimate use of the courts. This very much sounds to me like a legal maneuver to "protect" the interests of the lawyers by a) not acknowledging that they did something wrong and b) not taking away a source of revenue by discouraging lawyers from taking cases where they know their client is in the wrong...

  • Re:Tough Call (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Grond (15515) on Friday November 12, 2010 @09:19PM (#34212694) Homepage

    I'm an attorney, and I agree. If attorneys could rely on "professional courtesy" they wouldn't each pay thousands of dollars per year in malpractice premiums. There's no lack of legal malpractice suits, but I would say that attorney discipline, including disbarment, doesn't happen often enough. Just look at how long it took Jack Thompson to get disbarred.

  • Re:Context... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@NOsPAM.gmail.com> on Friday November 12, 2010 @09:35PM (#34212810) Journal

    Actually thinking about it there might be a way to fix this broken system. simply have BOTH SIDES forced to use public defender style lawyers, and if the corp wants better then they have to pay into a fund that half the money goes to opposing council thus insuring that neither side can just use "hired thugs" to overpower the other. After all the courts have ruled money is speech, so it should be only fair that in a court of law BOTH sides get free speech, yes? Because as it is now the law is a bad joke. The rich can do anything to anyone and short of taking the law into their own hands the poor have NO redress, simply because the rich can afford to drag a case on for decades.

    I have seen this in action when a local ISP was screwed out of their backbone access by a big corp who basically said "Don't like it? Just try to sue us" and they were told by their lawyer "Oh no doubt you'll win, but it'll take a decade and cost a million and a half just in lawyers fees". Needless to say they just gave up their ISP and walked away. And THAT is the power the law has given the multicorps with this broken system today. You don't like competition? Well then just bury any startups in so much legal bullshit they can't even breath and will be forced to spend all their money on the courts.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 12, 2010 @10:21PM (#34213016)

    My kingdom for a mod point... but alas I have none... Oh, no kingdom either... Sorry if I got anyone's hopes up there. You are being kind saying that trying to sue someone sans lawyer is at best naive. Judges used to be... (drum roll)... LAWYERS!!!

    Yes, well, when they put on those robes and pick up that gavel, they're supposed to magically become utterly impartial and incorruptible paragons of logic, reason, and compassion.

    Yeah, or something like that.

  • Re:Well done! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday November 13, 2010 @12:22AM (#34213540)

    Anecdotally, that would seem to be the case. A co-worker sat on a federal grand jury for a year. The feds bring EVERYTHING before the grand jury, even routine shit like immigration cases. A GJ hearing is only required for "capital or otherwise infamous crimes" per the Constitution so they don't have to, it is just how they work. He said they were always extremely well prepared, and the GJ handed out the indictments in every case. In almost every case he said he felt there was sufficient evidence had he been in trial he would have voted to convict (GJ has much lower standards of evidence needed). He said there were only one or two cases where he had any doubt about the person's guilt, and there was still enough evidence to return the indictment.

    Now of course that doesn't mean all federal offices everywhere are the same, this is just anecdotal, but it is fairly compelling. It seemed they only brought things to trial when they were damn sure.

    Part of the reason is that there just isn't a lot that ends up being a federal crime. They don't deal with a lot of the little shit, the "he said, she said" stuff you see in county courts. Most of their non-immigration cases tend to be much bigger, more involved, cases and thus have mountains of evidence. The immigration ones, well those are always clear cut: "Is the person a citizen? If not are they a resident alien? If not do they have legal permission to be in the country? If not then they are breaking the law and can be deported."

    While I agree we want to carefully watch for abuses of the system and people being railroaded or forced to plead to things they didn't do, I don't see a high conviction/plea rate as a bad thing on the face of it. To me it could well indicate that they do their job, that innocent people, or even people who might be guilty but you aren't sure, are not charged. They only tend to bring charges when they are very sure. That is how it should work. People shouldn't be charged with a crime unless the prosecutor is sure they are guilty.

  • by twistofsin (718250) on Saturday November 13, 2010 @03:38AM (#34214134)
    We wouldn't need lawyers to interpret the law if we didn't elect lawyers to write them.

Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature. -- Rich Kulawiec

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