From the #MoronFiles | I’m not a lawyer…I just play one online.

PRELUDE: 

Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say that I see all kinds of crazy stuff in my line of work. Some of the things that come across my desk make me frustrated with society and you probably know that I blog about Fighting Fair on the Internet because of the things that I see.  In addition, sometimes the things that I see that frustrate me include others that are part of my profession. Like any profession, there are certain shit bags (okay, maybe they aren’t all shit bags…just most of them) out there that give us lawyers a bad reputation and quite frankly, it pisses me off.

Some things that I see warrant a full blog article – so I write those.  Others just warrant a short mention because I find the conduct both outrageous AND funny.  I’ve decided to start a collection of true stories, with some identifying facts modified so I don’t have to deal with the psychos, and will be continually adding more of those to the #MORONFILES for your reading pleasure:

04/10/2018 #MORONFILES ENTRY:

It’s been a while, and there have been some probably post worthy matters that I have skipped, but THIS one warrants mention.

Normally this blog touches on people who are indeed real lawyers…and I started this thinking I was dealing with a real lawyer, after all, I see enough dumb stuff that I created this blog series off of it…but as I dug in, this almost makes more sense! Let me explain…

One of my clients received a demand letter today (a send via email in a generic word doc, no formal letterhead, nothing).  The letter alleges to be from a lawyer, with a firm name in a signature block, but sent from a Gmail account.  Let me first say, anytime I receive a letter from a lawyer, representing a client, from a Gmail account, I cringe. Dude, a domain is cheap and so is associated email.  You automatically lose credibility in my book but that’s another story for a different day.  I read through the letter (blah, blah, blah…”[s]evere legal action will be taken against you”…blah, blah, blah…”we assure you in the strongest terms” blah blah blah, we will “leave no stone unturned”…blah, blah, blah).  Okay, severe legal action? As opposed to regular legal action? Strongest terms? Leaving no stone unturned? Wait, are you Perry Mason?  No? You have Perry Mason envy don’t you?  Sigh. Who comes up with this crap? Oh, this person…

To begin with, let’s just say this is another case of some moron having no damn clue what they are talking about…all the blah blah blah is really just a bunch of lame bullshit they probably read somewhere online and thought it might apply to their “client’s” situation when it doesn’t.  Not even a little bit.  That Google law degree isn’t working so well for ya pal.  What’s even more funny…the person appears to be a total fraud!

So wondering what kind of ding dong would write this kind of stuff I start researching.  The state this person purports to be an attorney in has, like many states, a mandatory state bar registry.  Guess what?  Not listed in the registry.  Look up the LLC that is the alleged firm name on the Corporation Commission records…yeah, entity doesn’t exist.  Look up the address – it might be an apartment (which to be clear, thanks to technology, there are a ton of home based attorneys and there is nothing wrong with that at all – it’s a great way to go!) but in this case it added to the suspicion. Icing on this shit cake – looked into the name provided – court records for recent arrests for a person with that very unique name.  Could there be others named the same living in the same area? Possibly…but given everything else, I sort of doubt it.  Either this is a really shoddy attorney or a person who really sucks at pretending to be an attorney.

There are enough bad lawyers out there…what’s worse is bad people, who are not lawyers but pretending to be lawyers, holding themselves out as such.  By the way such conduct is called the unauthorized (or unlicensed) practice of law and is typically considered a crime.  So indeed, this one makes the #MORONFILES!

 

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Arizona Defamation Law

Now that nearly anyone can get online and “speek freely” it is no wonder that there is a rise in defmation related claims.  If only people would have read the Fighting Fair on the Internet series sooner?  Indeed, so many people are either “That Guy” or are on the receiving end of “That Guy.”  Hey, I’m not judging, I’m just telling it as I see it.

As adults that may not have grown up with the internet, many of us were thrust into online situations that, quite frankly, we weren’t equipped to handled.  And now, kids are even getting the short end of the lesson learning stick because of it.

So let’s talk about defamation.  Of course, it’s important to point out that laws vary from state to state and if you are not in Arizona, the following information may not apply to you.

ARIZONA DEFAMATION LAW – THE BASICS

The Elements of Defamation in Arizona.

In Arizona, as outlined in Morris v. Warner, 106 Ariz. 55, 62 (Ariz.Ct.App. 1988), the elements of a defamation claim are:

  1. a false statment concerning the plaintiff;
  2. the statement was defamatory;
  3. the statement was published to a third party;
  4. the requisite fault on the part of the defendant; and
  5. the plaitniff was damaged as a result of the statement.

In order for a statement to be considered “defamatory” the statement made must be false and bring the alleged defamed person into disrepute, contempt, or ridicule, or impeach his/her honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation.  That is outlined in a case called Godbehere v. Phoenix Newspapers, Inc., 162 Ariz.335, 341 (Ariz. 1989).

Spoken “defamation” is called slander.   Think of rumor telling in the locker room, or maybe even bigger, like saying something on live public television.

Written “defamation” is called libel.  Given the popularity of the internet now, this is what we see happening more often.  Think of postings you see people post online.  Those arguments that get heated and people start making up false statements…yeah, that could be libel.

Distinguishing between defamation per se and defamation per quod.

Distinctions between defamation per se and defamation per quod in Arizona is important because it effects the type of damages that the plaintiff must allege in order to prevail on their claim.

  • Slander per se is a statement that does any of the following:
    • Imputes the commission of a crime involving moral turpitude (meaning an act or behavior that gravely violates the sentiment or accepted standard of the community.); or
      • Examples of this are false accusations that some has commit rape, forgery, robbery, and solicitation by prostitutes.
    • Tends to injure a person in his profession, trade, or business; or
      • For example, falsely telling someone that a business took your money without providing the service promissed.
    • States that someone has a contageous or vanerial disease, or that a woman is not chaste (meaning that she is not pure from unlawful sexual conduct).
      • For example, falsely saying that someone one has AIDs.
  • Slander per quod is basically a slanderous statement that does not otherwise fit under the definition of slander per se.
  • Libel per se is a statement written which “on their face and without the aid of any extrinsic matter” tend to “bring any person into disprpute, contempt or ridicule” or “impeach the honestly, integrity, virtue or reputation.”
  • Libel per quod is bascially a written statement that on its face doesn’t fall within the definition of defamation BUT by which special circumstances actually make it fall within that definition.

Statute of Limitations for Defamation in Arizona

As I discussed in a prior article, it is important that people understand Statute of Limitations.  They are there for a reason and, in my view, counsel that file claims that are barred by the statute of limitation are doing nothing more than wasting client resources and, arguably, committing an ethical violation.

The statute of limitations for defamation in Arizona is one (1) year.  A.R.S. § 12-541(1).  There may be, in some very limited circumstances, an argument to be made that there should be a tolling of the statute of limitations in situations where the information would have been concealed from the plaintiff (like in a confidential memo) in which case the statute of limitations may run fron the date of “discovery.”

Another important fact to know is that Arizona, by state statute, applies what is referred to as the “single publication rule” or, more specifically, the “Uniform Single Publication Act.”  A.R.S. § 12-651.  The important langugage of the statute states as follows:

A. No person shall have more than one cause of action for damages for libel, slander, invasion of privacy or any other tort founded upon a single publication, exhibition or utterance, such as any one edition of a newspaper, book or magazine, any one presentation to an audience, any one broadcast over radio or television or any one exhibition of a motion picture. Recovery in any action shall include all damages for any such tort suffered by the plaintiff in all jurisdictions.

B. A judgment in any jurisdiction for or against the plaintiff upon the substantive merits of any action for damages founded upon a single publication, exhibition or utterance as described in subsection A shall bar any other action for damages by the same plaintiff against the same defendant founded upon the same publication, exhibition or utterance.

The single publication rule applies to content posted to the internet and under the “single publication rule,” a cause of action for defamation arises at the time the statement is first published; later circulation of the original publication does not start the statute of limitations anew, nor does it give rise to a new cause of action.  Larue v. Brown, 235 Ariz. 440, 333 P.3d 767 (2014)

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.