Today’s Lesson* in Libel Laws*

I’m not a lawyer, so a celebrity bear** is going to explain* former gubernatorial candidate Ray McBerry‘s lawsuit against Linda Pittman, Jeff Sexton and Thomas Knighton. Mrs. Pittman is the woman who accused McBerry of having an improper relationship with her 16-year-old daughter, Sexton and Knighton operate a blog called SWGA Politics. According to the AJC the suit charges that “Mrs. Pittman “stated falsely, with actual malice, that [McBerry] had committed the crime of child molestation” on a Facebook page.”

MH: Mr. McBeary, how can that be?

McBeary: I’m glad you asked! Libel is a legal term grown ups use when somebody calls somebody else a a really bad thing and that really bad thing isn’t true. But they can’t just say it, they have to write it  and publish it. If it’s not true, and it hurts somebody, and they write it in a book or a newspaper or on the Internet, then it’s called libel. There’s a special kind of libel called libel per se, which means that the thing that was said was SOOOO bad you know somebody got hurt, and that somebody can collect damages from the somebody who wrote it.

MH: Can the somebody who wrote the bad thing just write “sorry” and take it back?

McBeary:  No. The person who wrote the bad thing can say that they were telling truth, which is an “absolute defense” against libel, like a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Or they can say they were offering their opinion, or commenting on a “matter of public interest.” But truth is the best defense.

MH: So if the guy running for governor really was kissing and hugging and holding hands with Mrs. Pittman’s 16-year-old daughter, that would be child molestation and she and the blogger guys would be off the hook, right?

McBeary: No, dummy! In Georgia, the age of consent is 16. So all those things he did with that young woman were legal. McBerry can’t have committed child molestation with her, because she was

MH: What about if he was famous, like a public figure? Isn’t that a defense?

McBeary: Dude, he got 2.5% of the vote in a Republican primary! That ain’t famous.

MH: He carried Schley County.

McBeary: Do they have any Chuck E. Cheese’s there?

MH: I don’t think so. Look, are you telling me that McBerry might actually win a lawsuit against this woman and these bloggers?

McBeary: He might.

MH: What kind of sick, manipulative, vindictive, emotional bully would want to put an entire family through the whole mess again?

McBeary: Sounds like my kind of guy.

*There is no legal advice contained anywhere here. If you have legal questions, you should consult an attorney, not a blog.
**Not a real celebrity bear either.

52 comments

  1. Ambernappe says:

    It would be easy to laugh, and I did. However, the situation is so bizarre that it appears legal action is the only way to settle any part of it since it appears it will not go away otherwise. I just will not read anymore about the unfortunate situation.

  2. bgsmallz says:

    #1- Note the accuser wasn’t included in the suit. So, can we assume that this is basically an endorsement of her story but a defense against a pretty narrow term, namely that McBerry is by the definition of the law a child molester? (because, as a general term, can’t child molester mean someone who molests a child…and again speaking generally, isn’t a 16 year old still a child?)

    #2- Any good lawyers out there know if part of the defense could include discovery aimed at finding other victims that might fall under the defamatory statement? I assume there isn’t an ability to say outrageous statements with the hope of finding evidence that they are true during discovery prior to trial…

    • bgsmallz says:

      and just to be clear, i’m not suggesting either of the above to assert any sort of fact or opinion on anyone involved in the case. I’m posing those questions to see if anyone with expertise can shed light on how these types of lawsuits generally proceed.

      • NoTeabagging says:

        McLeery sues for damages for Not getting Govenor, meanwhile what do we get for Governor? Damaged Goods!

          • Yes, complete with notarized statements – one per sign. That’s why he won – legal and proper sign placement. After all it was the number one issue in the state.

            • NoTeabagging says:

              You guys crack me up! Now get back on topic: dissin’ pervs!
              BTW that’s Mr. Supreme Sign Czar to you

                • B Balz says:

                  The Supreme Sign Czar has a sense of humor!

                  The 2010 gubernatorial candidate whose name I shall never type (Gcwn- I-snta) again has generated literally hundreds of posts.

                  What has always amazed me about Gcwn- I-snta is that there are a goodly number of folks living free among us that think he is all that.

                  The folks that Gcwn- I-snta appeal to are not necessarily the hillbilly, knuckledraggin’, window-lickin’, short-bus ridin’ set, either.

                  Ol’ Doc Red Phillips is a pretty smart fellow, though I rarely agreed with his points of view. Appacheangel is probably a lovely person, though I did not agree with her much either.

                  Good times!

  3. macho says:

    My take is he is most definitely a public figure, he ran for statewide office, which opens him up for that standard. That being said, he still might win, there is even a standard for public figure’s defamation and that’s “actual malice,” which might be why they used “actual malice” in their complaint.

    You pretty much have to prove that the writers knew the law in GA for child molestation is under 16, that the girl was 16 and they wrote the article knowing it was incorrect and a lie (actual malice).

  4. macho says:

    Now it might get interesting if the girl comes out and revises when she and McBerry starting having their “meetings.”

  5. macho says:

    If I were representing Sexton, I would probably state that my client used the term “child molester” not in a legal sense but more in a layman’s general sense. Everyone has their own opinion of what a child is, as a matter of fact the legal age of consent varies by 15 to 18 among the states (so the legislatures can’t even agree). My client’s personal belief is that a child is anyone under the age of 17. Therefore, when he refers to someone as a child molester, it’s based on his personal belief and not based on a criminal prosecution standard.

    I might also mention, that my client was unaware of the legal age of consent in GA, which would not get you off on a statutory rape charge, but might get you off on a charge of “actual malice.”

  6. Doug Deal says:

    I think your lawyer friend over-thought this a bit, Mike. Layman are not expected to know the terms of legal art and are not necessarily expected to use solely criminal definitions of words. Child molester has a layman’s use which is much more commonly used. Just like people use the term robbery, when they properly mean theft and think burglary always means theft has occurred, people use the term to mean something beyond what a criminal court will find.

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/molestation

    2. To subject to unwanted or improper sexual activity.

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/child

    1b. A person who has not attained maturity or the age of legal majority.

    Obviously both tests pass, as he has apparently admitted to improper conduct with the child (see the letter) and although you have reached the age of consent at 16, you are still a minor child until you are 18.

    The truth is that Ray McBerry is a dangerous fiend and his followers need to be castrated for following that lunatic.

    I urge anyone who cares about freedom of the press and free speech, holding politicians accountable and righting the incredible wrongs that this troll of a man has committed to donate whatever they can to Jeff et al’s legal defense.

    • macho says:

      Ray will probably try to go for summary judgment based on the legal age of 16. I think you are right, so that motion should be denied. Then it goes to court and maybe the lady gets to come in and discuss all of her exploits with Ray, not good for the lady, but worse for Ray. I’m guessing, Ray withdraws at some point before the lady sits down for a deposition.

      The woman has been fairly open about Ray and his previous advances on her. So, while as a child, she didn’t want to go to court (I can hardly blamer her), as a lady she might relish the opportunity to go on the record about Ray. Ray seems to be just stubborn, and stupid, enough to go forward with this case. It might be fun to watch it backfire on him.

      I hope folks contribute to Jeff’s fund.

  7. John Konop says:

    I am little confused. Is Ray Mcberry suing Linda Pittman, Jeff Sexton and Thomas Knighton because the girl was 16 not 15 and he thinks this will somehow restore his reputation in this situation? Or does he think that people would think differently about the situation if the girl was 15 instead of 16?

    I am no lawyer but this seems like a tough sell for a jury. Am I missing something?

    • macho says:

      Actual Malice is a tough standard. How hilarious is it going to be if Ray loses his defamation suit against someone for calling him a child molester.

    • John,

      I’m not an attorney either, but I think your summary is correct.

      I wonder if McBerry has forgotten that in slander or libel trials, the plaintiff is the one with the burden of proof and is; therefore, the one on trial.

      I don’t think McBerry has any shot of winning unless he testifies and I can only imagine the questions that the defense attorneys will ask about the details of his meetings with a 16-year old high school girl.

      In this case, McBerry’s goal seems to be either intimidation or revenge. I see no evidence that he has thought this through.

      • Lady Thinker says:

        Actually, in the writings from back then as I recall them, McPervert was under a court order to stay away from the teen and her family, yet he wrote a seven page letter of apology to the family asking among several things, that the parents tell the teen that he had a puppy he wanted to give to her. McPerv’s letter was so rambling, it was appalling. I also recall that McPerv had given the teen a cell phone without her parents knowledge so they could communicate at any time.

        http://swgapolitics.com/index/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/meberry-letter.pdf

        McPerv admits in the letter that he saw the teen without her parents permission and after being told to stay away from the victim. He also stresses his close relationship with the girl. Now really, how many thirty-something men have close, meaningful relationships with 16-year-olds? It is just plain odd.

        I also find it interesting that he didn’t try to sue Karen Handel for publically saying that she would not share a stage with McBerry (she didn’t call him McPerv, that is my name for him).

        McPerv said at the time that he would sue anyone using his name negatively, so for about seven days straight, there was a daily blog about him. I see that Peach Pundit and all the posters were not named.

        I think McPerv is an egotistical sociopath with narcissist leanings and needs intense theraphy. Maybe his attorney dad could point that out to McPerv.

        • There is no way that this ends well for McBerry. I think a good attorney would admit the letter as evidence and make McBerry explain exactly what he meant in every sentence. His veiled references, beginning with the very first sentence, need to be explained with exacting detail.

          Unless he is hoping to intimidate the defendants into settlement, this suit doesn’t make sense to me. Most people don’t know who he is, even now. This case will increase his notoriety, and I could see a national news service picking up this case just for the icky/weirdness factor.

          • Lady Thinker says:

            I agree Ken, however, I think he will turn the tables to make himself the victim of people wanting to prevent him from becoming Georgia’s governor so he can secede from the United States.

            The letter is eerie and he admits several times that he did something wrong but wants to work things out in the church through Christian love and forgiveness rather than through the legal system. People like him think that if the victim refuses to work things out through the church, then the victim is not a Christian. I disagree.

            I am a Christian and understand much of the Bible but I don’t think Christian love and forgiveness means one can keep committing the same sins over and over and expect to get a free pass by saying, “let’s work this out through Christian love and forgiveness.” At some point, the person needs to feel the cold hard reality of jail as a tool to deal with their criminal behavior.

            What do you think?

        • Deephat says:

          Two comments. First after reading Mr. McBerry’s letter, it appears that the entire letter was written before a hearing, and as such would be evidence of “influencing a witness”- in Georgia that would be (or would have been) a felony. If I had been DA I would have charged him with that.
          My other comment is that despite the apparent fact of inappropriate contact with a minor (based on McBerry’s letter) the term “child molester” has a specific meaning under the law and semantic differences are not a legitimate defense.

  8. View from Brookhaven says:

    Never thought I’d see that character make an appearance on PP.

    Now we need somebody to work in a Sexual Harassment…Panda reference.

    • macho says:

      Interesting read:

      “Another significant concern is that, even where the statements made by the defendant are entirely false, it may not be possible for a plaintiff to prove all of the elements of defamation. Most people will respond to news that a plaintiff lost a defamation lawsuit by concluding that the allegations were true.”

      I was trying to make this point earlier. If McBerry loses, he’s known as someone who lost a defamation case against a people who called him a child molester.

  9. Jeff Scott says:

    I love how McPervy doesn’t have the cojones to sue the AJC or any other established media outlet. He’s just looking to extend his 15 minutes.

    Seriously, perv, go away.

  10. Gary Cooper says:

    I could be wrong, but I thought that a private citizen cannot be sued for libel by someone who is considered a public figure. At the time of the accusation, McBerry was technically a public figure as he was running for public office.

    • macho says:

      His attorneys will probably advise him to check his Napoleon ego and state that he was an inconsequential, unknown and ineffective candidate. Therefore, as a pretend candidate, he was not a public figure. This will be a huge leap for someone who was demanding concessions from Sonny Perdue 4 years ago and a campaign that takes credit for Nathan Deal’s runoff victory over Karen Handel.

      Basically he has to go out and say, “Guess what weird flagger dudes, in order to win this defamation case, it’s going to be a lot easier to say I wasn’t a public figure, which means I’ll have to say I had zero effect on the public debate over the last few years, which means all those times you guys stood on the corner for hours with your flags and signs was a complete waste of time.”

  11. Tricia says:

    Note to self: if someone has an inappropriate relationship with one of my children, DO NOT call him a child molester. ONLY call him a pervert and slimeball.

    Good to know.

    Yeah, not seeing what he’s gaining by doing this.

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