samedi 30 mai 2015

Major defeat for homophobic Mississippi & Louisiana bloggers in ill-conceived anti-SLAPP motions: Louisiana 5th Circuit Court of Appeal says no to Doug Handshoe & lawyer Bobby Truitt, purveyors of "clickbait"

In a fourteen-page opinion rendered May 28, the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal has handed a major defeat to homophobic bogger Douglas Handshoe of Mississippi and his inveterate attorney and frequent blog commenter Jack E. "Bobby" Truitt, a lawyer who practices from Covington, Louisiana. The appellate decision constitutes a major victory for victims of Internet harassment and online libel. The lawsuit also named Slabbed New Media, LLC, of which Handshoe's wife Jennifer Handshoe is reportedly an officer.

Last year, Handshoe had won a legal motion, having the libel case against him dismissed using a special motion to strike under Louisiana's Article 971, which protects commentary on public issues. The Plaintiffs, Chris Yount and his minor son appealed.

The appeal court unanimously reversed and remanded the decision of Judge Scott Schlegel in a case where civil process server Yount has sued Handshoe and Truitt for publishing defamatory comments on the blog Slabbed about Mr. Yount and his son. According to the allegations in the lawsuit, the comments were per se defamatory because they accused Yount of "innapropriate and and illegal sexual relations with the minor child," according to the decision. Handshoe had published that the drawing depicted a boy being sodomized by a "line of gay robots," and according to Yount's complaint, Truitt and Handshoe acted in concert to identify the child and to create defamatory innuendo on Slabbed. The Court repeatedly refers to the drawing as "pornographic." Handshoe has been identified as homophobic by courts in both the U.S. and Canada.

Yount's lawsuit will now go forward, and legal observers state that it could result in substantial damages being assessed against Handshoe and Truitt. The Court also ordered Judge Schlegel to award mandatory attorney's fees to Yount. Handshoe and Truitt also currently owe Daniel Abel attorney's fees as a result of their prior losses on anti-SLAPP special motions to strike in Abel's libel suit against them in New Orleans.

Yount is involved in a divorce case in Louisiana, and his only connection with Handshoe or Truitt had been to serve Handshoe with notice of civil lawsuits on several occasions, including from Trout Point Lodge in Nova Scotia, Canada, and Daniel Abel in Louisiana. Handshoe dug into the court file to find dirt on Yount, apparently in retaliation for being served.

"Captions and comments authored by Mr. Handshoe and Mr. Truitt underneath the drawing clearly identified the author as a minor child and the divorce proceedings in which he was involved," says the decision.  The Court continued
Mr. Handshoe argues that his publication of a pornographic drawing and evidence under seal from a private divorce proceedings was in connection with a public issue because: 1) his web site regularly breaks news and comments on "public issues" and 2) the blog posts dealt with publicly available information from court filings.
Handshoe was attempting to use Louisiana's anti-SLAPP legislation as a shield against being sued for targetting Yount with allegedly defamatory attacks. This mirrors his previous attempts--some succesful and some not--to block Nova Scotia Supreme Court decisions against him using the U.S. SPEECH Act. SLAPP stands for "strategic lawsuit against public participation." Handshoe has repeatedly referred to his numerous legal foes as "SLAPP happy nut jobs." Now, it appears the tables have turned.

The Fifth Circuit clearly and properly found there are limits on "free speech," even on the Internet, and that those injured online can seek redress through the courts. Louisiana's anti-SLAPP law will not be used to shield defendants like Doug Handshoe and Bobby Truitt from justice.

Judge Robert A. Chaisson clearly rejected as "absurd" the contention that one could seek the protection of the anti-SLAPP provisions simply because one is commenting on a judicial proceeding. In this regard, the Court cut no slack to Judge Schelgel or Handshoe & Truitt:
Under this reasoning, (which is the same interpretation used by the trial court), any cause of action arising from any written or oral statement made in connection with any kind of government activity or proceeding would be subject to special motions to strike regardless of whether or not the statements were made in connection with a public issue. Consequently, any party could defame or invade the privacy of a person involved in a divorce proceeding, traffic violation, child custody dispute, marriage, mortgage registration, passport application, or driver's license renewal  and be immunized from legal repercussions of damage to others through the use of an extraordinary procedural remedy.
 Flatly rejecting this reasoning and its application to the facts of the Yount case, Judge Chaisson drew a clear distinction between legimitate commentary on matter of true public interest, which is what anti-SLAPP laws should protect, and the kind of "private domestic matter" such as Yount's divorce.
Mr. Handshoe confuses the public right of access to judicial proceedings with the right to  free speech and petition. All of these rights are protected under the Constitutions of the United States  and Louisiana, by the express language of the statute,  but only actions arising under the latter rights  are protected by an Article 971 motion.   While information may be made available to the public for purposes of ensuring fairness in our judicial proceedings, there may be legal consequences should that same information be published and distributed as clickbait to millions of people on the internet in a manner that defames or invades the privacy of another. "The right to inspect judicial records should not trump the individual's privacy rights, especially where the purpose is to gratify spite, promote public scandal, or to publicize the embarrassing details of a divorce case." Copeland v. Copeland, 07-0177 (La. 10/16/07), 966 So.2d 1040,  1052.
Handshoe has sued Daniel Abel for "misrepresentation" under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act for serving a takedown notice on Handshoe's web host related to the pornographic drawing pursuant to a court order. Judge Chaisson's decisions seems to make clear that Abel was acting properly in serving the notice, and there was no misrepresentation. This could be a major blow to Handshoe's lawsuit in Mississippi federal court. In the same case, Handshoe also sued Loyola University Law School, which represented Yount's minor child in the appeal to the Fifth Circuit. Handshoe alleges Yount, Abel, and the Law School  engaged in "malicious prosecution" and "abuse of process" by suing him. One could conclude the true abuse of process and malicious prosecution may be being perpetrated by Handshoe and Slabbed New Media.

Handshoe's legal arguments in that federal court case now appear totally specious and unsubstaniated given the appeal court decision. Doubtless, the defendant will bring the Fifth Circuit decision to the attention of federal judge Starrett.

Handshoe also sued the Toronto Star and Halifax Chronicle-Herald newspapers for publicly identifying him as homophobic (despite the fact that the U.S. District Court in Gulport called him that in a decision). Hearings in all those cases are coming soon. Mr. Abel is slowly moving forward with his defamation action against Handshoe, Truitt, and Anne-Marie Vandenweghe. Trout Point Lodge and its owners are actively seeking enrollment of a copyright infringement judgment against Handshoe in Mississippi state court. They also have a substantial defamation judgment from Nova Scotia Supreme Court that could be enrolled in Mississippi at any time.

It looks like the proverbial walls are closing in on blogger Handshoe and his "promotion of public scandal."

Aucun commentaire:

Enregistrer un commentaire