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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Suit Against ‘Above the Law’ Blog Dismissed

Damn, I have not even had a chance to write about the lawsuit against the ‘Above the Law Blog’ and it is done and over.

So what’s up then? Last week, a University of Miami law professor arrested but never prosecuted on a charge of trying to solicit an undercover police officer sued the Above the Law blog for its posts on his predicament. But, in a startling development only days later, Donald Marvin Jones then abruptly dismissed the litigation, by posting a terse Notice of Voluntary Dismissal.

The suit by the African-American professor claimed the blog portrayed him in a false light, invaded his privacy and infringed the school’s copyright on his faculty photo, the National Law Journal reported last week. The dude was asking for a cool 44 million. I hope that was not for the photo. Here is the complaint (PDF).

The Southern District of Florida suit claimed an October 2007 article about Jones’ arrest "instigated its readers not only to read the post but also to join in what was clearly a viciously racist series of rants.” A later post featured a photographic collage that included Jones’ face on a $20 bill—the amount police claimed he had offered to pay for sex. Since the solicitation charge was later dropped, and Jones’ record was expunged, and he says he was innocent of the charge, he claims libel.

Managing Editor David Lat said it was the only time in its three years of operation that ATL had been sued. The bottom line is that bloggers are growing and pushing the edge of free speech. To quote Jerry Seinfeld, 'Not that there is anything wrong with that,' but we need to understand as I have blogged about fifty times now, bloggers are not exempt from defamation litigaton for what we say. We are in our infancy, we are feeling our power, and bloggers are cutting the edge. There is going to be a backlash.

Let me share an anecdote with you. A few weeks ago, one of my cases led to a national brouhaha in the sports blogging universe. I sued the defending World Champion Philadelphia Phillies and their first baseman, slugger Ryan Howard, in order to recover a 200th homerun baseball I felt was wrongfully swindled from a 12 year old girl. Here is the link in case you missed it.

Because the story went national, scores of writers blogged about it and me. I can’t begin to tell you the names I was called, many scandalous and libelous. Okay, so some would say truth is a defense, but being called a greedy, scummy, slimeball, dirtbag, by anyone other than the guy I live with is unacceptable. There were a lot of reckless bloggers I could probably legitimately sue. Many just do not grasp what constitutes defamation; what is not fair public comment.

From a legal standpoint, the Plaintiff in the ATL case may not be done. As no answer had yet been filed, he had a right to enter a voluntary dismissal without prejudice, and did not need to seek the court's permission. That means, potentially, he can easily refile. There has been no settlement and apparently no discussions with the defendant’s counsel, Mr. Randazza, who publishes the great blog, The Legal Satyricon. So the story may not be over yet.

Here is Mark's comment: 'I’m relieved that Mr. Jones came to his senses. We were prepared to file a motion to dismiss and a motion for sanctions, and we were confident that both would have been successful. I am consistently unimpressed by academics and anti-speech parties who think that the courts are there for the redress of foolishness, not the legitimate redress of valid legal grievances.'


  1. By filing this suit, the only thing Jones accomplished was to cause the number of blog postings about his encounter on 79th street to multiply. Now instead of one blog posting about him, there are 100s.

    Proof that sometimes you are better off just turning the other cheek.

  2. I think Professor Jones has a statute of limitations problem on top of everything else.

  3. Hey, Norm, you smoke pot?

  4. Good point by South Florida Lawyers diminishing the likelihood of refiling the case is that from the outset this Professor has some statute of limitation issues in this really frivolous case.