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Quote of the Day - Free speech means the right to shout 'theatre' in a crowded fire. - Abbie Hoffman
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Free Speech Not Free When You Defame Others

You have a First Amendment right to say whatever you want, even if it's critical, right?

Wrong.

There are limits.  The typical example prohibits you from yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater.  That limit exists because to do so is dangerous.  But what happens if you just want to be critical?

And critical and critical and critical.  Almost like a protest.

Anne Lemen, a self-described Christian evangelist, found out the hard way.  She was apparently upset with a neighboring restaurant, the Balboa Island Village Inn, a small bar and grill just down the way from MIPTC in Newport Beach.  Lemen lives next to the restaurant, which she defamed as part of her campaign to shut the bar down, telling anyone that the bar made sex videos, dabbled in child pornography, distributed illegal drugs, encouraged lesbian activities, had mafia links, was a whorehouse and sold tainted food.  The trial court ruled all were false statements, and banned her from making them. 

That's not all Lemen said, according to the California Supreme Court:  She called customers "drunks" and "whores."  She told customers entering the Inn, "I don't know why you would be going in there.  The food is shitty." She approached potential customers outside the Inn more than 100 times, causing many to turn away.  Lemen had several encounters with employees of the Village Inn.  She told bartender Ewa Cook that Cook "worked for Satan," was "Satan's wife," and was "going to have Satan's children."  She asked musician Arturo Perez if he had a "green card" and asked whether he knew there were illegal aliens working at the Inn.  Lemen referred to Theresa Toll, the owner's wife, as "Madam Whore" and said, in the presence of her tenant, Larry Wilson: "Everyone on the island knows you're a whore." 

Aric Toll, who bought the business in 2000, perhaps not too surprisingly, saw his sales drop by 20%.

Despite these defamatory remarks, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's injunction, leaving only minor restrictions in place (preventing her from videotaping patrons on their way in or out of the bar).

Last week, however, the California Supreme Court reversed the reasoning in the Court of Appeal's decision, and ruled that a Court can stop Lemen's defamatory statements and activities.  In the Court's words (despite two separate dissents and one concurring opinion), ". . . a properly limited injunction prohibiting [Lemen] from repeating statements about [the Village Inn]  that were determined at trial to be defamatory would not violate [Lemen]'s right to free speech."

There is a line, and Lemen crossed it.  Now the case goes back to the lower court to redo the injunction and hold a trial on the damages Lemen caused the bar.  That will be an expensive lesson in "free speech."

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Monday, May 07, 2007 at 20:10 Comments Closed (0) |
 
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