Former Vogue cover model, Liskula Cohen, 36, is about to make some interesting law. Cohen has filed in court to force Google to reveal the anonymous sources who said bad things about her in a “Skanks in NYC” blog. Cohen wants a court order so that Google will reveal the names of her critics so that she can sue them for defamation.
The bloggers ran entries and pictures that referred to Cohen as a “skank” and a “ho.”
Cohen says that she was “shocked and embarrassed” by the entries “that were used to describe me as a promiscuous woman who is filthy, disgusting, foul and a whore.” The entries also trashed her for her appearance, hygiene and sexual conduct. One anonymous source wrote: “I would have to say the first-place award for “Skankiest in NYC” would have to go to Liskula Gentile Cohen.”
This could make for a fascinating torts case. First, there is the question of the right of Google to keep sources confidential. The court may be less than sympathetic since this is far removed from the traditional journalistic realm. Other individuals have sued for such trash talk on sites with little success as with the Dontdatehimgirl.com case. Second, there is the question of the defamation itself. Truth remains a defense, which would make this a nasty fight in discovery and trial (if it went that far).
Under the common law, per se categories of defamation included allegations of being unchaste or engaging in sexual improprieties. (A somewhat date and often sexist category that applies almost entirely to women).
This would certainly fit that category where the anonymous critics write “She’s a psychotic, lying, whoring . . . skank . . . Desperation seeps from her soul, if she even has one.”
Courts will apply the standard of applying any non-defamatory meaning (if there is one). Under the common law, the court adopts the less defamatory meaning of common terms, including trash talk. One of the leading cases is Roby v. Murphy where the court explores the meaning of the term “slut.” This standard is fully explored by the Illinois Supreme Court in Bryson v. News America.
Then there is the complication that Cohen is a public figure, which puts her under the higher standard of proof of New York Times v. Sullivan. While her career has diminished in recent years, she would still satisfy the standard for a public figure and need to prove actual malice (which would seem easier than usual here). Google itself is not likely liable under governing precedent such as the Zeran case, discussed here.
Cohen has had a rough time of it. In January, 2007, a man named Samir Dervisevic cut her in the face after she objected to his helping himself to vodka at her table at Club Ultra. What is astonishing is that this horrible act (that ruined her career as a model) resulted in just 30 days in jail. That is fewer than the 46 stitches needed to piece back her face. She ended up having repeatedly plastic surgery. What type of prosecutor or judge would accept a plea agreement like that? Not surprisingly, after the prosecutors and the court failed to impose a meaningful sentence, this thug was arrested again throwing three glasses into a woman’s face at a hotel.
For the full story, here.