Thursday, February 4, 2010

Grisham Didn"t Libel Anybody

John Grisham is the author of many books lawyers love to read.  I'm guessing he himself would deny literary-airs, but his novels consistently captured clear-eyed portraits of those aspects of the legal discipline he chooses to write about.  In otherwords, he is a great chronicler of the legal profession as most Americans encounter it. 

A successful writing career has given Grisham the freedom to pursue among other things, the Innocence Project and many other important legal reform efforts, including efforts to end the death penalty in the United States.  The work to the right, The Innocent Man, a work of non-fiction resulted in the eventual exoneration Ronald 'Ron' Keith Williamson in Oklahoma and the exposure of shortcomings in the Oklahoma criminal justice system.  The Innocent Man also got Grisham sued for libel by three Oklahoma criminal justice officials.  Yesterday legal websites including the excellent Courthouse News Service reported that the 10th Circuit United States Court of Appeals upheld a U.S. District Court judge's dismissal of the claims. 

Here, on Bad Lawyer we discussed defamation claims on several occasions.  Again the public figure/public official status of the plaintiffs in the Grisham case was determinative of the disposition of the lawsuit.  Public figures/public officials have a very difficult burden to overcome in establishing defamation liability.   Frankly Pulic Officials are the folks, that we the people are licensed by our most important freedoms, to criticize.  When I have more time I will revisit the subject of defamation and the interesting history underlying the seminal case, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, or you can read the Wikipedia entry yourself at the link.

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