Thursday, March 25, 2010

Brian Blair Threatens Libel Suit Against Blogger

I'm late to the party. I just read about St. Petersblog 2.0 blogger Peter Schorsch being threatened with a libel suit by former Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair. This is an absolutely frivolous lawsuit.

Blair is infamous for lawsuits. He filed suits against political opponent Kevin Beckner and Carrabba's Italian Grill. In the latter suit, Blair claimed an injury at the restaurant impaired his career as a professional wrestler. Blair wrestled in Japan after the alleged incident. Blair's explanation was tag-tag matches were less strenuous. Blair's blood-alcohol level was 0.089 90 minutes after the accident. Blair claimed he only had one sip of wine.

Blair has hired the law firm of Barker, Rodems and Cook to possibly sue Schorsch.

Dear Mr. Schorsch:

Our law firm represents Brian Blair. We have reviewed your web posting dated February 1, 2010. , at

We write today to serve written notice under section 770.10, Florida Statues which provides that "[b]efore civil action is brought before publication or broadcast, in a newspaper, periodical, or other medium, of a libel or a slander, the plaintiff shall at least 5 days before instituting such action, serve notice in writing on the defendant, specifying the article or broadcast and the statements therein which he or she alleges to be false and defamatory.

The Supreme Court case Times v. Sullivan found that actual malice must be proven to meet the standard of "false and defamatory." Blair's attorneys make claim there are several factual errors in Schorsch's post. The Supreme Court ruled that doesn't meet the standard of actual malice.

(c) Factual error, content defamatory of official reputation, or both, are insufficient to warrant an award of damages for false statements unless "actual malice" -- knowledge that statements are false or in reckless disregard of the truth -- is alleged and proved. Pp. 279-283.

Then we have Sticks of Fire blogger Tommy Duncan attacking the day after Schorsch announced he is being sued by Blair. Duncan wrote the post "brian blair threatens loose blogger," with barely mentioning Blair's lawsuit against Schorsch. Duncan defended Blair by stating the charges were dropped (true) and calling Schorsch "juvenile" for bringing up the arrest. Tommy goes into a Bill O'Reilly "I'm really a moderate" diatribe to diss Schorsch and lament on why we can't we have civil discourse. It is no secret that Sticks of Fire is a conservative blog. I find it hysterical the blog editor of a site that sell stripper thongs and published Rachel Moran's controversal post advocating assaulting homeless people is lecturing us on good taste. Glass houses and stones.

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At March 26, 2010 10:41 AM , Blogger tommyduncn said...

Late to the party? More like completely clueless.

I find it hysterical that you keep going back to the same well - for years, now.

I encourage your readers to visit the Sticks of Fire post you linked, and see if they read it the same way you did. In fact, the title is awfully similar to yours.

Further, if you paid a bit more attention, you would know that Sticks is neither all conservative nor always liberal.

By the way, both you and your readers ought to read - and comment on - Sticks more often. You can point out all errors in judgment. Perhaps it will even help raise the level of discourse here in our community.

At the very least, reading Sticks will help keep you from being "late to the party."

Then again, I understand that it is a lot easier for you to simply call people names, than to admit alternative viewpoints or have a rational discussion.

At March 26, 2010 2:58 PM , Blogger Michael Hussey said...

Tommy, your post sided with Blair and blasted Peter. You did not even discuss the legal merits of the case. Peter expressed the opinion a law enforcement group shouldn't endorse Blair. That is an opinion. Not libel.

You took issue with Peter mentioning Blair's arrest. The arrest was reported in the media. Contrary to what you may say, it will be a campaign issue. Regardless of the merits of the arrest. Candidates use scandals against their political opponents.

You attacked Peter and defended Blair. If a candidate filed a suit against you you would feel differently.

At March 26, 2010 4:32 PM , Blogger litbrit said...

I'm not familiar with the would-be case--yet--but I'm very well-versed in First Amendment law, and it is true that for public figures, and even not-so-public ones, the standard for libel is actual malice aforethought. The plaintiff would need to demonstrate that not only was a published item false, and knowably false, but prove that the author actually published it with the malicious intent of harming the plaintiff. That's a tough standard to meet, as Sullivan and a number of other cases throughout the country's history have shown. Had the blogger published false and defamatory information about Blair's wife, for example, and said wife was not a public figure, the standard would be different (see Time v. Firestone).

I often wonder--and I'm not saying that this is necessarily the situation here, only speculating--about attorneys who threaten opinion writers and bloggers with libel suits and whether they're simply attempting to establish themselves, create a market presence, or similar. Because media law is one of the first things you study in law school, hell, even in undergrad journalism schools; consequently, they're well aware of the difficulty (if not impossibility) of mounting libel suits when a public figure is involved.

One example of this is ex-governor Palin's attorney, whose name no-one knew until he threatened a local Alaska blogger with a libel suit--said blogger reported rumors of a Palin separation and possible divorce--but caved pretty quickly thereafter when the discovery demands started pouring in.

Ironically, while England is arguably the birthplace of tabloid newspapers, it's also one of the few countries where celebrities have successfully sued tabloids for publishing unsavory and/or false information about them.

We live in interesting times, definitely.

At March 29, 2010 10:22 AM , Blogger tommyduncn said...

I thought I was fairly clear in the original post by suggesting Blair was foolish for making the threat.

But I'll spell it out for you.

I feel there is no merit to any legal action against Peter. In fact, I believe there will be no case - it's just a threat. And a stupid move by Blair.

Yes, Blair's arrest will obviously be used against him, but in my opinion, there are at least a hundred valid reasons not to support Blair WITHOUT resorting to red herrings such as this.

I KNOW both you and Peter can do better than this. It's disappointing that you both feel you cannot.

And that is what my post attempted to point out.

At March 30, 2010 9:13 PM , Blogger Peter Schorsch said...

Alright, I've about had it up to here with Tommy's criticisms on this issue. And I guess I will use this forum to respond:

I didn't care for his description of me a "loose blogger". Although I really don't really know what a loose blogger is, I 'm pretty sure I don't fit the definition. I think I've established myself as one of the state's most prominent bloggers, so much so that I believe my work eschews the word blogging. I write. bloggins is but one component of that writing. But to call me "loose" -- what the hell.

I especially didn't appreciate that comment because I thought Tommy and I had developed a budding friendship after battlin' against The Man, i.e. Media General over the inappropriate use of our online work.

So much for that.

But it was that friendship that kept me from responding to Tommy's criticism in the first place. You don't see my runnin' around saying that, in all honesty, Tommy's been phoning it in on Sticks of Fire for quite some time.

I guess that's what ironic about Tommy's criticism, his statement that he knows we can do better than what we are doing when we criticize Blair.

To that I will say, no, I can't do better as a political activist, writer and blogger than to do what I can to keep someone like Brian Blair from winning. He is absolutely despicable, as a human being and as a politician.

And Blair's threat of suing me is but the latest proof of that. What Tommy Duncan should be concerned about is a former elected official attempting to sue a fellow blogger.

So, in actuality, Tommy, you can do better.


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