Posts In "Defamation"

Defamation




Miss Universe Pageant Scores Big Against Former Contestant

The Quaker State can be proud of many things.  The Liberty Bell.  Andy Warhol.  Tastykake.  Trading Places.  The Immaculate Reception.  But one part of its history that Pennsylvania may wish to forget (besides dog killer Michael Vick) is the garrulous young woman chosen to represent the state in the Miss USA pageant — Sheena Monnin.  Last month, a New York arbitrator found that Monnin defamed the Miss Universe organization when she claimed that the show had been rigged and ordered her to pay $5 million in damages.  Everyone knows that beauty pageants are big business (and were even before Honey Boo Boo tragically became a household name).  But how did they suddenly become the setting for big damages awards too?

“Fraudulent, Lacking in Morals, Inconsistent, and in Many Ways Trashy”

Monnin participated in the Miss USA competition and was not one of the semifinalists selected by the pageant judges.  A different panel of celebrity judges then chose the five finalists, including the eventual Miss Universe, Olivia Culpo of Rhode Island.

She of the $5 million judgmentMoments after learning she had not been chosen as a semifinalist, Monnin sent an email to the director of the Miss Pennsylvania USA Pageant, Randy Sanders, claiming that the contest had been “f-ing rigged Randy.”  (Wouldn’t be surprised if this phrase becomes part of the vernacular.)  Monnin resigned as Miss Pennsylvania the next day.  As her reason, she stated that the pageant system had “removed itself from its foundational principles” by allowing transgendered contestants.  That night, she publicly announced her resignation on Facebook, stating that she wanted no affiliation with an organization that was “fraudulent, lacking in morals, inconsistent, and in many ways trashy” — a sentiment that sounds like it could just as easily be a review of the clientele at many Hollywood nightclubs.

In a second Facebook post, she provided a new rationale for her resignation:  the show had been rigged.  As evidence, Monnin gave details of a conversation with another contestant who purportedly had found a list naming the top five finalists prior to the final judging. 

Not surprisingly, these comments received much media attention.  Monnin repeated her accusations on NBC’s Today Show, which is broadcast nationally. 

Given that allegations of corruption in judging are nothing new and are rarely substantiated (the 2002 Winter Olympics figure skating scandal notwithstanding), the Miss Universe officials might have let this go after Monnin ignored the group’s offer to review the judging process with her.  Forgiveness, however, was no longer on the agenda after the organization allegedly lost a potential $5 million sponsor who purportedly pulled out after expressing concern about the “rigging” allegations. Continue reading the full story . . . »




Miss Universe Organization Sues Contestant for Accusing Miss USA Pageant of Being Phonier Than a Spray-On Tan

As any viewer of The Apprentice knows, Donald Trump likes to be the one to say “you’re fired.”  However, Miss Pennsylvania, Sheena Monnin, recently “fired” Trump and his Miss Universe Organization.

Monnin gave up her crown after alleging that the results of the May 30, 2012 Miss USA Pageant were rigged, and were even known by certain contestants before they were announced on live television.

Monnin claims that the Donald is as morally bankrupt as many of his companies are financially bankrupt.  On June 6, 2012, Monnin posted this highly restrained “letter of resignation” on her Facebook page:

I have decided to resign my position as Miss Pennsylvania USA 2012.  Effective immediately I have voluntarily, completely, and utterly removed myself from the Miss Universe Organization.

In good conscience I can no longer be affiliated in any way with an organization I consider to be fraudulent, lacking in morals, inconsistent, and in many ways trashy.  I do not support this system in any way.  In my heart I believe in honesty, fair play, a fair opportunity, and high moral integrity, none of which in my opinion are part of this pageant system any longer.

Thank you all for your support and understanding as I walk a road I never dreamed I’d need to walk, as I take a stand I never dreamed I’d need to take.

After 10 years of competing in a pageant system I once believed in, I now completely and irrevocably separate myself in every way and on every level from the Miss Universe Organization.  I remove my support completely and have turned in the title of Miss Pennsylvania USA 2012.

Although the post has since been removed, the accusations didn’t go over well with Trump, who has a history of reminding the public about his honesty and search for the truth.  (When he teased making a presidential run in 2000, he humbly noted:  “I think the only difference between me and the other candidates is that I’m more honest and my women are more beautiful.”  More recently, Trump responded to President Obama’s definitive refutation of Trump’s “Birther” claims by proudly taking credit for getting to the truth of Obama’s birth certificate.)

The Donald vs. Miss Pennsylvania

Needless to say, Trump and the Miss Universe Organization did not take Monnin’s allegations of dishonestly lightly, promptly serving her with a legal arbitration action for defamation.  Essentially, they maintain Monnin is a “loser” whose whine is caused by a case of “sour grapes.”  While Sheena may be guilty of missed congeniality, has she actually Trumped up false and defamatory accusations? Continue reading the full story . . . »




The NFL’s Biggest Bounty?

After being barred from going after opposing quarterbacks in 2012, Jonathan Vilma is now going after the biggest bounty of them all — NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell.  Last week, Vilma sued Goodell for defamation based on Goodell’s accusations that Vilma participated in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program.

As any self-respecting sports fan (or anyone else who doesn’t live here) knows by now, the NFL recently discovered that Saints coaches and players created a system by which the players would receive monetary bonuses for knocking opposing players out of a game with injury.  (And you know a scandal is serious when it gets its own Wikipedia page.)  Goodell claims Vilma was at the center of that program, going so far as to promise $10,000 of his own money to anyone who knocked Brett Favre (and later Kurt Warner) out of a playoff game.  Vilma insists that he did not take part in the bounty program, that he never offered money to his teammates to take out Brett Favre or Kurt Warner and that Goodell had no reasonable basis on which to make those allegations.  Vilma seeks unspecified damages for the harm to his reputation caused by Goodell’s statements.

As my regular readers (somebody must read this stuff, right?) should know by now, I’m a football fan, so the idea of an NFL player suing the almighty Roger Goodell is fascinating stuff.  Since becoming commissioner in 2006, Goodell has become the judge, jury and executioner regarding player (and coach) misconduct.  Players who get in trouble must go meet with Goodell (presumably to kiss the brass ring, or maybe just something that rhymes with the “brass” part) and then await his punishment without any rules or guidelines on how that punishment will be administered.  But don’t worry:  if the player (or coach) believes the punishment is unjust, he can always appeal to — guess who? — Goodell.  Although Goodell has, on occasion, reduced a player’s punishment, it happens rarely and there is little explanation of why.  (Doesn’t really seem fair to me, but I’m just a Bills fan…and Bills players never do anything wrong…  Or, in recent years, right.)  It’s safe to assume that more than one NFL player out there (like Goodell’s BFF James Harrison) would offer a chunk out of his salary to have someone take Goodell down a peg or twelve.

So, the real question for us here at Law Law Land is:  does Vilma stand any chance of winning and forcing Goodell to change his ways?  Probably not.  Here’s why. Continue reading the full story . . . »




Becoming Immune to Reputation Damage: Tips from Kim Kardashian?

This blogger is proud to say that I have never watched any show featuring a member of the Kardashian family (okay, okay, unless you count their step-brother Brody Jenner…you know I could never resist The Hills).  I normally try to pretend to steer clear of anything Kardashian, as I fall into the camp of people who wonder, “why the heck is she famous, anyway?”  (Yes, that’s a rhetorical question — I know it’s because of her video debut.)  But I can’t resist writing an update about the Old Navy commercial we posted about back in March 2011.  (Extra shout-out to fellow blogger Megan Rivetti for anticipating Kim K.’s lawsuit, which wasn’t actually filed until July.)

Kim’s lawsuit claims that Old Navy and its parent company The Gap Inc. violated her right of publicity and misled and confused consumers, and seeks $15­–20 million in damages.  (For more on the right of publicity, see here; for more on consumer confusion, see here; for more on how the actress who starred in the Old Navy commercial is totally re-living Kim Kardashian’s life in other ways, see here.)  But now The Gap’s lawyers are moving in on Kim’s “private life” (and the use of air quotes has never seemed more appropriate).  Among other things, they have sought financial records that show how much stores Bebe and Sears earned by making deals with Kim and why Bebe dropped Kim, and information about “Kim Kardashian’s reputation as a singer and dancer.”   As Eriq Gardner of THR, Esq. points out, one reason The Gap may be seeking information about Kim’s business dealings is to make out an argument — often used in defamation cases — that the plaintiff is “libel-proof” because her reputation is so ruined that no additional damage could be caused.

So let’s take a look at the contours of the so-called “libel-proof” defense. Continue reading the full story . . . »




Creepy Tweeters Have Speech Rights Too

If our dear readers look at my past blog posts, you might think I’m vying for a Bloggie Award* for “Most Posts Related to Social Media.”  As someone who personally spends a fair amount of time keeping up with my friends/news outlets/favorite restaurants through social media, many of the legal disputes that catch my eye examine the intersection of free speech and social media — after all, it’s good to know where the line between lawful and actionable is drawn, even though I don’t think I’m likely to step over it.  (Plus, I think I’m now allowed to bill my workplace Facebook/Twitter time as “researching blog post.”)

Usually, when something goes legally haywire with social media, it’s because Courtney Love defamed someone on Twitter again.  Last month, though, a Maryland federal court has shined a (27-page) light on the criminal law of cyberstalking.  Under a semi-obscure provision of the Violence Against Women Act — codified at 18 U.S.C. § 2261A for you legal eagles out there — federal law makes it a crime when an individual “uses the mail, any interactive computer service, or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce to engage in a course of conduct that causes substantial emotional distress” to someone “with the intent to kill, injure, harass, or place under surveillance with intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person in another State.”

This law may have come as some surprise to defendant William Lawrence Cassidy, who was charged with cyberstalking based on his more than 8,000 posts on blogs and Twitter about Alyce Zeoli, a Buddhist leader (and quite the avid Tweeter herself).  The court’s recitation of facts describes Alyce Zeoli, or “A.Z.” as a “reincarnate llama,” but I’m pretty sure the court really meant lama (as in Tibetan teacher of the Dharma) rather than llama (as in South American camelid).  In any event (actually, probably especially if she is, indeed, an alpaca), Ms. Zeoli — the so-called “Buddha from Brooklyn” — is already quite the controversial figure.

Cassidy’s posts and Tweets ranged from threatening comments (“ya like haiku?  Here’s one for ya: ‘Long, Limb, Sharp Saw, Hard Drop’ ROFLMAO”**) to criticism of Zeoli as a religious figure (“[A.Z.] is a demonic force who tries to destroy Buddhism”) to just vague creepiness (“owl and raven feathers separate….tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock”).  Cassidy moved to dismiss the charges against him, and on December 15, the court granted his motion, holding that Cassidy’s speech was protected by the First Amendment and that the restriction didn’t pass scrutiny and dismissed the charges against him.

So what lessons can you take from Cassidy’s case the next time you’re ready to dive into the Twitterverse? Continue reading the full story . . . »




Q&A: What Are the Risks of Using Actors to Portray Real People in a Fictionalized Bio-Pic?

Q:  What are the legalities of using actors to portray real people in a film — a fictionalized bio-pic in which the main character is purely fiction but some of the other characters are real, both living and deceased?  For example, if Forrest Gump did not use actual footage but instead chose to represent those scenes using actors to represent the famous people?

A:  I really liked Forrest Gump when I saw it.  I’m pretty sure I even cried in it.  Now I hate it for some reason.  Maybe it’s just a general backlash against Tom Hanks’ haircut in The Da Vinci Code.  But let’s not get into that.

As to your question…we Americans generally think we all have a 1st Amendment right that gives us the ability to say what we please when we please, which has lead to such enlightening phenomena as Ashton Kutcher’s constant Tweeting (thanks a lot, Founding Fathers).  What is important to understand, however, is that this right of free speech is not absolute.  We are not always free to say what we please, especially when it comes to saying things about other people. Continue reading the full story . . . »




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