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Jury Awards $11 Million for Internet Defamation 612

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the lawyers-making-everyone's-life-better dept.
dptalia writes "A woman in Florida has been awarded $11.3 million dollars in a defamation case. Apparently the defendant was unhappy with the plaintiff's referral service and posted complaints all over the internet. In a chilling slap at free speech, the jury decided that not only was this illegal, but that it was worth over $11 million. The defendant can't pay the judgement — she can't even pay for an attorney. The plaintiff says she doesn't care, but sued for the principle of the thing."
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Jury Awards $11 Million for Internet Defamation

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  • by jellomizer (103300) * on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @12:17PM (#16395451)
    Now both sides have lost. First the defendant who has to go into bankruptcy and the plaintiff who now because of the trial got national attention for being a litigious bastard. Who most people will be afraid to do work with because she will take any negative comments towards her and sue the pant off people. If she just sucked it up, explained her side on the net as well anyone the damage will be limited to a couple of Blogs which no one reads. But new with USA Today coverage now the rest of the US can hear about it. So in the end the only person who won is the lawyer. The Defendant can't afford to pay the Plaintiff, but the Plaintiff needs to pay the lawyer.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Cyrom (984413)
      Sounds like i will have to be a little more carefull with my feedback on Amazon and Ebay.
      • by computational super (740265) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @12:42PM (#16395973)

        Anybody still beleive that Americans don't need anonymous internet options like Freenet [sourceforge.net]? (Assuming, that is, that they EVER get the thing to work).

        • by AndersOSU (873247) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @01:10PM (#16396537)
          While I think that the award is outrageous, and unneccessary, and also that the defendnt was a victim of circumstances (she didn't even know about the trial due to Katrina,) bear in mind that it has never been legal to publish whatever you feel like about someone else.

          Libel is libel, and while you can defend yourself by demonstrating that your statements are true, you better have some decent evidence if you are goiing to call someone who runs a buisness a crook, theif, and con-artist.

          The news here isn't that free-speach is being eroded, it is that juries apperently think that libel is worth 11 million.
          • by RexRhino (769423) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @03:39PM (#16399275)
            No, the news is that even casual speech on web forums is now considered to be the same as a newspaper article, or television advertisment.

            While libel laws have always been around, the bar on what sort of speech is considered libel has been dramaticly lowered. Before, libel would have to be some outright slanderous speech made is a very public manner, and there was an extremly high bar for the person making the claim of libel... now, all you have to do is say something that pisses off a person with a lawyer, and you are commiting libel.

            You are using the word "libel" to describe two completly different forms of behavior. It is like if I say "Terrorism has always recieved the death penalty, and that is why we need the death penalty for people who commit terroristic acts of jaywalking and spitting on the sidewalk". While it is true that libel has always been against the law, this is so stretching the definition of libel that I fail to see how anyone couldn't sue anyone else for saying something they don't like.
        • mod me redundant, but I will NEVER install a program on my computer that will possably lead to child pornography getting on my computer. Give me an option to restrict what is on my hard drive, and then I will use FreeNet.

          I know the philosophical argument for FreeNet, but in modern American politics that does not matter one wit. If you are found with child pornography on your computer you mine as well kill yourself because you will be a marked person for the rest of your life, and NEVER be able to make an
      • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @02:12PM (#16397841) Journal
        IANALBILTRL (I am not a lawyer but I listen to radio lawyers)

        It seems to me the problem is calling someone a "crook," a "con artist" and a "fraud." is the problem.

        If it had simply been a reasoned explaination of why the services didn't work out in that particular case, or why she was unhappy, them's facts, and not libel.

        I have left "negative" feedback on Amazon and eBay, that is legally definsible; E.g. "Seller delivered DVD set meant for the Chinese market. Trouble with playback on some players and has inferior packaging". I didn't leave feedback saying "Seller is a crook and a fraud!".

        I think my feedback is more useful than the later example.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by fubar1971 (641721)
        That is why I post everything as an AC..... Aw sh*t I forgot to log out before I clicked Submit....
    • While loosed lawyers are much more powerful than chained ones, the chained ones are safer.

      Even if the other side looses their lawyer, like the parent says - the lawyers are the only ones who win if they're loosed.

      If you keep control of them, they won't be able to bite you, and you stand a chance of coming out ahead. It may even be possible to win even if the other side has loosed their lawyers.

      Another good tip is to remember to spade or neuter your lawyer to help reduce the number of strays.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Quaoar (614366)
        Another good tip is to remember to spade or neuter your lawyer to help reduce the number of strays.


        This is even better than performing an operation on them to prevent them from reproducing! I think we should spade all lawyers immediately.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Dexx (34621)
      "People are using the Internet to destroy people they don't like, and you can't do that."
      Yeah - use lawyers instead.
      • by anachattak (650234) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @02:07PM (#16397725)
        Contrary to popular opinion, lawyers don't run around filing lawsuits in their own names. They have clients. Clients are the ones who decide whether or not to sue. Might as well blame the post office for delivering junk mail. Maybe the problem isn't with lawyers, but with the people who hire them.
        • Good luck (Score:3, Insightful)

          by caitsith01 (606117)
          IAAL, and I can tell you with certainty that most of the people on this site will never accept your key point.

          There are shady lawyers, just like there are dubious characters in nearly every industry. However, in my experience, good lawyers spend a large amount of their time trying to convince litigious clients NOT to sue anybody, and there are plenty of good lawyers. It may also interest some of you to know that the percentage of legal actions filed that actually make it to trial (i.e. that don't settle)
    • In general, one cannot discharge intentional torts, such as defamation, in bankruptcy. Basically, the defendant can be garnished and collected against for the rest of her life. I assume she will never have any property titled to her again.
    • Oh god, here we go again. A) how do you know the lawyer won anything? If the plaintiff's attorney was working on contingency they don't get a damn thing. B) Do you have any evidence that the defendant now has to go into bankruptcy? People have judgments against them all the time that they can't afford to pay, if they don't have the assets then generally the plaintiff won't go after them, because then they WILL have to go into bankruptcy and the plaintiff will not only not collect but will have to go to
  • Confusing To Me (Score:4, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @12:17PM (#16395453) Journal
    What's always been confusing to me is what needs to be true in publishing. Books have always seemed to be protected from people 'publishing whatever they want.' But the more I think about it, the more I realize that politicians usually have to put up with books containing allegations that aren't entirely provable. So, for the most part, I think that books are safe from large postings of defamation.

    The same can be said about magazines & newspapers (usually) though--with the National Enquirer and tabloids--it certainly does have examples of blatant slander.

    But anyone can say anything on the internet and get away with it--or so I thought. Considering what I read online, I'm certainly surprised there aren't more cases like this.

    It seems the more volatile the medium is, the more 'free' you are to do whatever you want.

    I haven't read the actual comments online that this woman posted but I would suggest that the defendant appeal to a higher court on the grounds of free speech and try to get her story out through the media. I mean, it looks like she's boned either way so she might as well appeal and represent herself if she has to. I'm pretty certain that this could be dismissed in a higher court. After all, it sounds like she was dissatisfied with the person's service so she is more than qualified to comment on the woman's business--unless she was telling explicit lies.
    • Public Eye (Score:3, Informative)

      by Conception (212279)
      People in the public eye don't get applied to the same standards as private citizens.
    • Re:Confusing To Me (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Shadow Wrought (586631) * <shadow.wroughtNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @12:34PM (#16395835) Homepage Journal
      IANAL, but I have worked in the legal field for several years now. In the article it mentions that the Defendant used words like, "fraud," "con artist," and such to describe her. So the Defendant wasn't saying that she was unhappy with the Plaintiff's work, but that the Plaintiff was an actual criminal defrauding the people who went to her. That is a significant difference. Free speech does not, nor has it ever, allowed people to lie about someone else. That is not its intent and arguing that it ought to be allowed does far more damage than good.

      As for politicians and celebrities, there is a higher standard that must be met in order for words against them to be considered damaging. For celebrities the case is, I believe, Lemon v Kurtzman, and it basically says that if you put yourself into the national spotlight, than you should expect to have things said about you. (In a nutshell;-)

      As for politicians, I believe just about anything you say against them is fair game since it can be construed as a political metaphor. "CongressCritter Soandso is a crook!" is allowed because it is, in essence, still considered political speech. The protection of which is the main intent of the Free Speech clause of the 1st Amendment.

      • Re:Confusing To Me (Score:5, Informative)

        by DragonWriter (970822) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @12:37PM (#16395907)
        As for politicians, I believe just about anything you say against them is fair game since it can be construed as a political metaphor.


        Not quite. Any public figure, included a politician, has a high bar to prove defamation under the New York Times v. Sullivan standards, which require a showing of actual malice as well as falsity. But that's not absolute license to print anything you want regardless of truth.

        • by nizo (81281) *
          ...require a showing of actual malice...


          So basically type whatever you want; just make sure to put a smiley at the end of it? Thats what I do when I type things in about all you ratbastards out there :-)

          • Re:Confusing To Me (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Catbeller (118204) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @01:00PM (#16396325) Homepage
            Why else do you think Rush Limbaugh and similar call themselves comedians? Protection against defamation.

            And in England you don't need to prove malice, hence that cryptic comment by Tom Cruise in that South Park episode about Scientology, "I'll sue you! I'll sue you in ENGLAND!"
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)


              And in England you don't need to prove malice, hence that cryptic comment by Tom Cruise in that South Park episode about Scientology, "I'll sue you! I'll sue you in ENGLAND!"

              And in England, if you get sued for libel, the burden of proof isn't on the plaintiff, it's on YOU. People who file libel suits often engage in forum shopping [slate.com] and file them in British courts. The British system is so broken that it has a chilling effect on free speech even outside the UK.

      • Re:Confusing To Me (Score:4, Insightful)

        by gfxguy (98788) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @12:40PM (#16395947)
        Thanks for the comment - I completly agree with you but I'd be labeled an idiot since I can't claim to have a background in law. However, this woman's right to free speech was not infringed on; she exercised it! Oh boy did she exercise it!

        I wish people would stop confusing freedom of speech with freedom from repercussion.
    • It seems the more volatile the medium is, the more 'free' you are to do whatever you want.


      While the distinction between libel and slander do have to do with the volatility of the medium, the most important distinctions, as far as what you can get away with, in defamation law in the US have to do with the subject matter (whether its a public concern or private) and the subject person (whether they are a public figure or not).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @12:17PM (#16395467)
    It's called libel. It's against the law and has never been protected speech.
    • I think it is more of a case that the plaintiff won 11.3 million from it where the defendant can't even afford it. Combined with the fact she didn't have the opertunity to defend herself.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I think it is more of a case that the plaintiff won 11.3 million from it where the defendant can't even afford it.

        Damage judgements are about how much damage was done, not about how much the defendant is able to pay. (Puntitive damage judgements are about applying a small multiplier as a punishment for malice.)

        Combined with the fact she didn't have the opertunity to defend herself.

        She didn't have legal council. That doesn't mean she didn't have have the opportunity to defend herself - just that she didn't
        • by bladesjester (774793) <slashdot&jameshollingshead,com> on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @12:39PM (#16395935) Homepage Journal
          Chosing not to show up at all is throwing in the towel.

          Actually, it stated in the article that she had to leave Louisiana when hurricane Katrina hit and never got the court documents with the date to show up. They were returned by the postal service to the plaintiff's lawyer in Florida.

          So, apparently, the reason she didn't show up was not because she couldn't get an attourney. It was because she never got the summons.
          • First, this lady asks us to believe that she completely forgot about a court date. She acknowledged that she knew it was "approaching", which means she darn well ought to have had at least a rough idea of when she would need to appear and definitely ought to have been aware that she had a legal responsibility to keep track of the proceedings. Second, Katrina hit in August 2005. This verdict was last month, over a year later, and with no defense present you can bet the verdict was rendered on the same day
        • Just out of curiosity, what recourse will this woman, who has no means to pay this judgement, have? Will she they garnish her wages? If so, by how much? Can bankruptcy protect her? Has this judgement permanently ruined this woman's financial future?

    • It's only libel in the US if she can be proven to have known that what she said wasn't true. In this case, she wasn't actually able to appear in court (if TFA is correct), so she never had a chance at defending herself.
      • It's only libel in the US if she can be proven to have known that what she said wasn't true.
        It's only required to be proven if the charges are contested; if, say, the defendant fails to appear in response to the lawsuit, the no one should be surprised by a default judgement.
      • she wasn't actually able to appear in court
        Hmm... I know she got caught up in Katrina but her excuse for not appearing is a bit lame. If you're being sued in court then I strongly advise you to appear, preferably with legal representation. She had her chance, blew it (or knew she was guilty as sin), and now must face the consequences.
    • by gid13 (620803)
      In other words, "free speech" is not something we really have. Libel, hate speech laws, laws to prevent bomb threats etc, lack of rights at the border, censorship of TV/movies/etc for swearing and content, politicians choosing which media to speak to based on who casts them in a good light, anti-fraudulent advertising laws, hell even anti-spam laws, anti-noise laws, the list goes on and on... I'm not saying these are necessarily things with no good side, but they are all somewhat contrary to free speech. An
      • by Tweekster (949766)
        Fine whats your full name and address... we will see how you like it when I take an ad out in the paper saying you molest children and that I have a number of witnesses supporting that claim...

        Free speech needs to be close to absolute, but definately not absolute.
      • by gfxguy (98788)
        No, no... there is something amiss here. She has a right to free speech and she used it, now she's facing the repercussions. That's all there is to this.

        She wasn't censored... this was a civil action, not a criminal one. She may have been told to take down the "offending" material, but no one is going to hold a gun to her head to do it - she'll just receive more monetary penalties.
  • by loteck (533317) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @12:20PM (#16395535) Homepage
    I'm betting there's going to be a lot of very polite and respectful replies in this story's thread.
  • by stry_cat (558859) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @12:21PM (#16395561) Journal
    In a chilling slap at free speech, the jury decided that not only was this illegal, but that it was worth over $11 million.
    The jury decided that this was slander/libel. These are not protected by the first amendnemnt. You can't go around destroying someone's reputation when what you're saying is a lie. The jury must have found that the plaintiff provided the services according to the contract with the defendant. It's not a slap a free speech, unless you think people should be able to make unfounded accusations and damage an innocent person's reputation.
    • by Random Utinni (208410) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @12:36PM (#16395885)
      While it's true that slander/libel are not protected by the 1st Amendment, that's pretty irrelevant to what happened here. According to TFA, the defendant never showed up to offer a defense. The judge, without any other way to go, found a default judgment for the plaintiff. Only at this point was a jury called, and then only to determine damages. If you're a juror, and one attorney tells you, "In my long experience, this sort of pain and suffering (or whatever) is worth $11 million", and no one is there to tell you otherwise, there's a good chance you'll find $11 million in damages. Whether it actually was slander or libel doesn't matter. If there's no defense, the defense loses, regardless of the actual facts. Damned inactivist judges...

      It turns out the defendant had her house flooded by Hurricane Katrina and had to leave... the legal notices that the plaintiff was required to send bounced back to the plaintiff and were never received. The defendant didn't show because she wasn't aware of when the trial was. Nor did she have enough money to hire a lawyer. So, odds are, had the case actually been defended, this thing would've either been thrown out or reached a defense verdict.

      I'm just suprised that the judge didn't reduce the jury's damages... that said, because the defendant had no money for an attorney, it seems unlikely that this will be appealed (which it should be).
    • I have a thing against overcompensation. Was her reputation currently worth 11M? I think if someone does that much damage - they shouldn't be sued, they should be in jail.

      I think the punishment should fit the crime.

      Have lawsuits made our country truly better? One of the most frequent lawsuit targets, healthcare, is barely accessible anymore and the costs keep mounting. Compare this to, say some European countries, and there can be a major difference in price and accessibility to the common man.

      Long stor
  • Not free speech (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mikesd81 (518581) <mikesd1&verizon,net> on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @12:23PM (#16395601) Homepage
    In a chilling slap at free speech, the jury decided that not only was this illegal, but that it was worth over $11 million
    There's a fine line between slander and free speech. According to the article: A Florida woman has been awarded $11.3 million in a defamation lawsuit against a Louisiana woman who posted messages on the Internet accusing her of being a "crook," a "con artist" and a "fraud."

    Maybe 11.x some million is a little steep but you can't go out and slander someone. It would be different if the defendant went out and said she doesn't trust the person or like the person, that doesn't necessary deflamate the character.
  • by ackthpt (218170) * on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @12:23PM (#16395605) Homepage Journal

    Today's Lesson: If you can sue someone in your home state, who can't even afford a lawyer and is out of reach due to natural disaster, you too can win really big judgements!

    Seems Ms. Sheff is no stranger to trashing others [strugglingteens.com] on web sites.

    if you can't say something nice... sue.

  • From the article (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lax-goalie (730970) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @12:25PM (#16395629)

    The plaintiff's motive is:

    "People are using the Internet to destroy people they don't like, and you can't do that."

    But I guess people using the courts to destroy people they don't like is is just fine with her...

  • by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@gmai ... m minus language> on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @12:26PM (#16395655) Homepage Journal
    This being Slashdot and all, I'll probably get modded down for this. C'est la vie. Someone obviously needs to explain this.

    In a chilling slap at free speech, the jury decided that not only was this illegal, but that it was worth over $11 million.

    Freedom of Speech [wikipedia.org] is the right to speak freely. It is NOT the right to speak without repercussion. Every time you make a public statement, you are responsible for the content of that statement as well as the veracity of that content. The typical example of this is shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater. If there's no fire, then you can expect that your actions will have serious conseqences.

    TFA is light on the actual details of this case. So it's difficult to judge who was really "right" and who was really "wrong". (Especially since the defendent wasn't able to defend herself.) However, you need to pay attention to the fact that the defendent DID find an open forum for her speech. She posted her opinions (apparently to the point of persecuting the plantiff) and was thus able to exercise her right to free speech. The fact that a court decided that this speech was libelous [wikipedia.org] does nothing to impinge on those statements being fully accessable in a public forum.

    When we talk about the lack of Free Speech, we mean that the statements can't be made in the first place. As in, the controlling entity (usually the government) can prevent dissenting opinions from being published in newspapers, books, or webpages. China even goes as far as to deny the right to blog, and filters out all incoming media for any speech they might find distateful.

    Contrast that with a court case seeking to recover damages for statements made in public forums and accessible to millions. Presumably, those statements are still available. There is no "chill" here people. Move on.
    • by joshetc (955226)
      Hmm.. if I understand what you are saying, even China has free speech. Sure, you may end up getting shot if they don't like what you have to say. I really don't see what the problem is...
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by AKAImBatman (238306) *

        Hmm.. if I understand what you are saying, even China has free speech.

        Obviously, you don't. Otherwise you'd realize that you can't even make a free statement to get sued over. Statements that are critical of the government, or the government doesn't otherwise like are not allowed to be made in the first place. No blogs, no newspapers, no open forums, not even a public speech. If you managed to find a way around the restrictions, then the government would try to erase the incident altogether. THAT is a lack

        • by joshetc (955226)
          if I understand..

          Thanks for the correction though. I suppose they really shouldn't call it free speech though. Chinese are just as free to say what they choose as we are. Maybe they should call it "visible speech" as in they don't cover it up just because they don't like it. Of course, if it is a matter of national security the USA would surely try to stop me from saying something? Maybe the Chinese government feels someone slandering their government is a matter of national security as well..
  • From TFA: "I don't feel like I can express my opinions," Bock says.
    From TFP: In a chilling slap at free speech, ...

    Regardless of and without knowing this woman's "opinions", Free Speech doesn't include slander. If the plaintiff feels she was wronged or maligned, she has every right to pursue remedy.

    Like it or not, the fact that the defendant was unable (or unwilling) to offer a defense is, well her problem (and speaks more to our legal system than her case) -- she could have kept her mouth shut or ma

  • This sounds like another SLAPP lawsuit. [wikipedia.org]

    This can't be about individual cases. This has been going on long past long enough.

    This is about taking collective and massive action to deal with it. This is a country full of supposed free speech lovers - let's see who stays silent and who talks about reforming these loopholes that let the wealthy, be they business, government entities, or religions (Scientology anyone?) use the courts to do an end run around human rights.
  • by ahodgson (74077) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @12:33PM (#16395799)
    Claiming that you did business with someone and that they ripped you off is not "expressing your opinion", it is deliberately trying to hurt someone's livelihood. Civil court is the proper place to defend oneself against that sort of attack. In the US, if you're telling the truth, you can certainly say it, but you may have to defend yourself in court.

    Although the reward is certainly far in excess of any real damage that could have been done, the principle is sound. If you mouth off about someone, you had better make sure you can prove you're telling the truth and be prepared to do so in a court of law.

    It could be worse. In many other countries (including my own) you can be successfully sued for defaming someone even if you can prove that what you said is the truth. Now that stifles free speech.
  • Come on people...the defendant called the plaintiff a crook, a con artist, and a fraud. If youare going to complain about someone's service, you can give specific complaints. Give evidence to back it up. But you can't make unsubstantiated allegations, which the defendant did.
    "Stunning slap against free speech?" It was more like the spanking of a name calling toddler.
  • If you are sued and do not bother to show up for the trial, you should be amazed if you don't find yourself owing a large sum of money. This is not the first time I have heard of a plaintiff suing in a jurisdiction chosen to prevent the defendant from showing up. It is entirely possible that the plaintiff has an ethics problem and her treatment of the defendant would make the allegations of crook and fraud accurate. But the defendant did not provide any evidence to justify her allegations so the court had
  • Uh, you might want to actually read TFA - this case is no diffent than if Ms. Bock had taken out newspaper or television advertisements in which she defamed Ms. Scheff as a "crook", a "con artist" and a "fraud".

    Just because it's free to post information on the intranet doesn't make it any different from any other publishing medium - were this a newspaper or television related case, I'm sure most /.'ers would agree that the law is clear; to publicly accuse someone of a crime, you'd better have a little thin

  • I don't see how this is a slap at free speech. What it is a slap at is those who think that something that would NOT be OK before the internet suddenly becomes fine just because they do it on the internet.

    Here's a good rule of thumb: if something could get you in trouble doing it without the internet, doing it via the internet won't get you in less trouble.

    The internet changes things in two ways in these matters.

    1. You can reach more people.
    2. Interesting jurisdiction issues can arise that usually would no

  • A while ago (as in several years ago) I went to Subway and got a sandwich there that was full of staples (due to the way that particular Subway franchise worked at that time -- it was basically like something out of Mad Max). Generally speaking, I left most of the sandwich, although I'm sure there are areas of my gut that are beautifully organized even now.

    I wrote a little funny (and educational!) story about it, but I was advised not to post it anywhere because of the libel risk. I felt really guilty bec
  • again prove "Weird Al"'s point...
  • Juries often give outrageous awards way out of proportion to the offense committed, then the judge injects some sanity and reduces it to a more reasonable amount.

    If the $11 million is the final figure accepted by the judge, the judge should be de-frocked. One woman, who isn't a well-known public figure, talking smack on the internet isn't going to do nearly as much as $11 million or even $1 million of damage.
  • Not saying it's a hard and fast rule but, generally, when someone says it isn't about the money... it's about the money. And it doesn't have to be money from the defendant. They could be just banking on the publicity.
  • by s31523 (926314)
    I think it is a bit shady that the lawsuit basically defaulted to the plantiff since the defendant didn't "offer a defense", so who knows if the merits of the case were legit or not. So you tie up tax payers money (courts, judges, etc.) to bring a case where the defendant can't defend themselves to win an award they can not pay out of principle? Greeeeeat. What did this prove?
  • "I don't feel like I can express my opinions," Bock says. "Only one side of the story was told in court. Nobody heard my side."

    Sure you can express your opinions - you've already been sued for 11 million dollars, what else can anyone take from you?

    And only one side of the story was told because YOU HAVE TO SHOW UP IN COURT!!!! If you don't show up, of course nobody will hear your side.

    To anyone stating an opinion about libel - read the article, she lost the case because she didn't defend herself. It will be
  • A person that exercises her right to free speech and states her opinions and experiances gets sued... She can't afford a lawyer to defend herself in this civil case so there was no point in showing up... The judgement against her was one in default of a defence. This woman may or may not have been guity of defamation but I think rather not. In order to defame someone in my opinion you have to be someone that others listen to; i.e. someone with some measure of authority. Sounds to me like this woman har
  • by ZWithaPGGB (608529) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @12:54PM (#16396235)
    This seems to all have come out of a set of disputes over how to deal with troubled kids that led to them being placed in a school that is part of a group [wwasp.com] that has a long trail of allegations and convictions for child abuse [strugglingteens.com].
    Sue Scheff's site is here: http://www.helpyourteens.com/index.html [helpyourteens.com]
    A google for "WWASP" and "PURE" "Sue Scheff" gives interesting information.
    The original thread and allegations are here [fornits.com].
    Members of that board don't have anything particularly nice to say [fornits.com] about this event.
    • Wow. That was interesting reading. I've now had my helping of emotional turmoil for the year.

      Let's recap. Parents who can't control their kids send them to camps/schools where they fear their children are abused. The parents are very upset about this perceived abuse.

      You'll have to excuse me now, I have to go have a vasectomy. AGAIN!!!!
  • by hellfire (86129) <deviladv@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @12:56PM (#16396269) Homepage
    From TFA:

    "Bock says that when she moved back to her repaired house over the summer, she knew the trial was approaching but did not know the date. She says she doesn't have the money to pay the judgment or hire a lawyer to appeal it. She adds that if the goal of Scheff's lawsuit was to stifle what Bock says online, it worked."

    Bock is the Defendant and Scheff is the plaintiff. Bock basically was in Louisiana when Katrina hit and had to evacuate. When she got some of her lift back on track, it looks like she just say "awww fuck it, my life is turned upside-down, I can't deal with this" and simply let it go. Bock didn't even show up for the trial and had to let go of her lawyer!

    If you make no effort to show up for a trial in order to present a defense, then you will lose by default. Scheff won essentially on a technicality, not the facts of the case. I took a prior landlord to court once and he lost because he didn't show up for trial. The Judge ruled in favor of him simply because he didn't show up, and didn't even bother to look at the facts of the case. You have to show up to defend yourself or you are in contempt of court. The reason why the judgement was so large was probably because that was the maximum Scheff asked for or could get, and with no one to defend the outcome, no one was there to defend the penalty either!

    Here's more details from the article:

    Scheff, who operates a referral service called Parents Universal Resource Experts, says she referred Bock to a consultant who helped Bock retrieve her sons. Afterward, Bock became critical of Scheff and posted negative messages about her on the Internet site Fornits.com, where parents with children in boarding schools for troubled teens confer with one another.

    Basically we make a jump from Scheff providing services to help Bock to Bock becoming critical of Scheff, with no facts in between as to why. I can't blame the author of the article because she's not reporting on a violation of free speech, jus the facts of the case. I also can't judge if she was able to obtain why Bock was critical and what comments she made and where. Obviously the submitter of this article wanted to stir up he "Slander is not free speech" crowd, and succeeded in doing so, but you can't go that far unless you know more about what Bock said and what Scheff did to make Bock say those things.

    Scheff won on a technicality due to natural disaster. Winning on a technicality is not news, except for USA today, which never has any decent articles. This is one of the biggest stretches I've ever seen on slashdot. Maybe I should sue the editors and submitter for letting bullshit like this get on slashdot.
  • In my defense... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dptalia (804960) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @01:34PM (#16397083) Homepage Journal
    I don't think finding the chick guilty of defamation is a slap on free speech. I find awarding $11.3 million for said defamation a slap on free speech. Right or wrong - and I don't know what was said - $11.3 million is over the top.

    How many people are going to push the envelope if they know they may end up having a million dollar judgement dropped on them? Shoot, I'm wondering if I rate someone badly on ebay if I'll get sued!

  • by ylikone (589264) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @01:46PM (#16397329) Homepage
    People here are saying that free speech is not freedom to libel... which may be true, but we don't even know if this was libel... the accusations could be completely true! One affect this will have is that it will stop people from voicing negative opinions on the internet in fear of getting sued. Is this a slap to free speech? I think so.

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