Even though the bulk of my work is New York personal injury litigation, I often get asked to represent plaintiffs in defamation (slander and libel) claims. The callers soliciting my services are usually livid that so-and-so made disparaging remarks about them, all lies. They are outraged. Of course they are. A good reputation besmirched is a terrible thing.
Still, it is one thing to be angry, and another to embark on the long and expensive journey of civil litigation. I usually have to bill a client by the hour, rather than on a contingency fee basis, in defamation suits. That’s because liability insurance won’t cover the defamer — we have to reach into his or her pocket to collect on a judgment. And most defamers have little or no money to go after. So collecting on the judgment is very uncertain. And there are usually other uncertainties: Can we prove the statement was a lie, and if so, one that fits the narrow category of lies you can sue for? For example, if a client says of me, “my lawyer is an idiot”, that may be a lie, but it expresses an opinion, and therefore I can’t sue for it. But if the client said, “my lawyer is stealing from me”, I can sue because it states an alleged fact, not an opinon, and one that — if true — would constitute a crime.
My first question in helping the would-be client decide whether to pursue a defamation case usually is, “can you prove you were ECONOMICALLY harmed”? That’s because most defamation cases are not worth the trouble or cost of bringing unless you can prove that the lies actually caused financial harm, for example loss of business or lawyer’s fees defending criminal charges.
But when you are rich, and don’t need to worry about the high cost of going to Court, things are different. Take Alan Dershowitz for example (see top photo). He is the internationally renowned lawyer and Harvard College of Law professor who helped represent O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson, among others. And he’s no patsy. Recently, a certain Virginia Roberts (lower photo) made allegations that he (and Prince Andrew of Great Britain and others) had used her as a “sex slave” at lavish (and lascivious) parties when she was still 17 years old.
Dershowitz’ reaction was visceral and aggressive. He promised he would sue her for defamation. But his aim is not to get money. No, he has enough of that, and she probably doesn’t have enough to pay any significant judgment. So why would he sue?
Mr Dershowitz is suing to clear his name. As with any civil suit, the parties to the defamation suit have the right to take each others’ depositions under oath. Dershowitz plans to use this opportunity to test whether Ms. Roberts has the “hutzpah” (a word I am sure Dershowitz himself would use since he is proudly Jewish) to repeat her allegations under oath (so far her allegations are not under oath), which would constitute perjury, which is a crime. He says he hopes to get Ms Roberts jailed for perjury if she repeats the sexual abuse allegations under oath in the defamation suit.
Let’s face it, money matters. Yes, you get better medical care if you are rich, and better housing, and better food. You get better justice, too.
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to hear from you!
Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
michaels-smolak.com Central NY Personal Injury Lawyers
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.