How many defamation suits do you think need to be filed before plaintiff-side defamation lawyers remove their heads from their colons?
CNET reports: (full story here)
A Pennsylvania school principal has filed a lawsuit against four former students, claiming they falsely portrayed him as a pot smoker, beer guzzler and pornography lover and sullied his reputation through mock MySpace profiles.
As a preliminary issue — how many people went to high school? Did you ever hear “false rumors” about your principal? Yeah, its called “child gossip.” I’m not saying that a Principal can’t ever be defamed by his students, but there certainly is an expectation that the kids will talk smack about you. They are at their most rebellious and they “know everything.” You laugh it off and move on. If anyone believed the kids, there would be an investigation.
Next, there is no better way to ensure that a lie about you gets spread far and wide than by filing suit over it. Therefore, before filing a defamation suit, do a little reality check. Is it really worth it, or would ignoring it be the smarter thing to do. Don’t ask a lawyer, ask someone with common sense (well, the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive) or with public relations credentials.
Next problem — what if the case goes to trial? I sure hope that this principal has never smoked pot before. I’d certainly file discovery requests to scan his hard drives on all of his computers to see if there was any porn on them. Truth is a defense to libel, and hooo boy…. once you’ve proven the allegations in court (if you do) then there is no end to how far and wide they might travel. Of course, the principal in this case might be squeaky clean. It sounds like the community thought so, given his recent promotion.
There are good examples of when a defamation suit is not only compatible with the First Amendment, but is a proper reaction to defamatory speech. They are few and far between, but they do exist. For example, Grapski v. McGovern & Florida Blue Key was certainly a reasonable reaction to the defamatory speech. )I am disgusted that the Florida Bar allowed the defendant in that case to be admitted to the Bar).
In any event, the vast majority of all defamation suits are either frivolous or just plain stupid.