—Joy Newborg, Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A.
Tweeting about what you are up to or how you feel normally may not raise an issue, but when you are airing dirty laundry or accusing someone of a crime or actions that may hurt their reputation, then it becomes a whole different story. Defamation generally is a published statement that injures a person’s reputation and exposes the person to public hatred, contempt or degradation, which the person making the statement knows or should have known the statement was false. Opinions are generally a defense, but when it goes beyond that and could be viewed as the person making a factual statement, then the person may be facing a defamation lawsuit.
Courtney Love, musician and actress, has experience in this area. In May 2011, she was sued by her former law firm Gordon & Holmes and former attorney Rhonda Holmes for defamation over the following tweet “I was f…ing devastated when Rhonda J. Holmes Esq. of San Diego was bought off.” (sic). Love also made similar comments that were used in a printed interview, including that the Plaintiffs had stopped talking with Love because “they got to her.” The plaintiffs claimed they believed “Love became very angry and vengeful towards Plaintiffs for their refusal to represent her and Love therefore, in retaliation against Plaintiffs published malicious, false and libelous statements about Holmes.” The area of contention was that the words “bought off” and “got to her” could imply that Holmes accepted a bribe, according to the complaint, which wrongfully accused Holmes of engaging in illegal, criminal and/or unethical conduct which caused damage to Holmes’ business reputation. A hearing on this matter was held in mid-February 2012, where Love’s new attorney argued that this case should not go forward as the statements could mean many things, but the judge apparently disagreed and ruled that the case can proceed.
This case follows on the heels of another defamation case brought against Love in connection with Love’s tweets against fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir, the designer behind the Boudoir Queen line. According to the lawsuit, the tweets called Simorangkir a “drug-pushing prostitute” and claimed that she had a history of assault. Love argued that she was expressing her opinions, but in March 2011, Love settled the case and agreed to pay $430,000.
Former New Edition frontman Johnny Gill has also landed in trouble for a series of tweets he allegedly made against Ira DeWitt, CEO of Notifi Records. According to the defamation lawsuit, Gill allegedly tweeted accusations that DeWitt leaked a song from one of his upcoming albums on the internet and tweeted that DeWitt was “f…ing nuts” and that Notifi Records was a fake company, among other things. According to the lawsuit, DeWitt claims that the tweets, made maliciously, accused her of criminal, improper and immoral conduct, which has injured her reputation and business by imputing to her a lack of integrity and professionalism. Gill explained that he was exercising his freedom of speech, but the court may not agree.
In another case, an NBA referee William Spooner sued for defamation in response to a tweet by an Associated Press Timberwolves reporter, where the reporter’s tweet suggested that the referee had promised points back to coach Kurt Rambis after a contested call went in favor of the opposing team. According the lawsuit, the referee claimed that the tweet accused him of fixing the game and calling his reputation into question. Spooner was investigated by the league following Rambis’ tweet. This case was settled in exchange for removal of the tweet and repayment of Spooner’s attorney’s fees of $20,000.
So the next time you want to air your grievances by tweeting, you may want to think twice.