The Atlanta Injury News Blog

Georgia Version of Ethan Hawke Entering Twelfth Year of Litigation

"I want to run for sheriff in Georgia." Are you thinking something like that? Or maybe you're just thinking: "I want to reform the local police."

Always be careful when you try to reform the police -- Ethan Hawke in Training Day could have told you that -- or if you are going to get involved in a defamation lawsuit arising from it.

Because one Georgia case about alleged defamation that took place during a sheriff's election has been going on for eleven years, reported the Georgia Daily News, and will continue to go on for the foreseeable future.

Basically, a guy named Danny M. Bennett got involved in the local politics and gave some money to a committee to reform the office of the sheriff. That man was Dennis Lee Hendrix, who then put out a fliers that more or less called Danny Bennett a convicted criminal of some kind. 

There were about 36,000 thousand fliers out there, in three different styles. Danny Bennett sued, claiming he had been defamed. A jury agreed, and gave him $3.6 million. But then on appeal, which is where we are now, reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution, a court found that 24,000 thousand of those fliers should be considered protected speech under the First Amendment. They then kicked the case back down to the lower court to re-evaluate damages, based on those 12,000 fliers that are not protected by the First Amendment, and therefore can be deemed to be defamatory.

So now the court will have to measure Danny Bennett's damages based on those 12,000 fliers, which will likely be less. However, where Bennett is on strong footing is the fact that the court reaffirmed that he should be considered a "private" individual -- and cannot be deemed a "limited public" figure.

The latter kind of people have a harder time proving defamation, because courts think that if you are in the public eye, you will likely be part of the public debate. The lesson, then, if you are going to be defamed, is to be deemed a "private" individual. Of course, private people usually don't have other people talking about them, which makes them less likely to be defamed (at least on a large scale), so the whole thing is a little tricky.

Has someone said something nasty about you to third parties in written or verbal form that hurts your reputation? Is it a lie? The lie is could be defamation, the written form of the lie is called libel, and the verbal form is called slander. It might be advisable to talk to a lawyer.

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