Criminal defense attorney Ivan J. Bates has filed a $13 million lawsuit against the Baltimore Sun after articles suggested that he engaged in witness tampering and invoked the fifth amendment to avoid incriminating himself in wrongdoing. The Sun is standing by the reporting of journalists Melissa Harris and Julie Bykowicz.
Bates insists that “[t]he only thing I have as a lawyer is my name and my integrity, and that’s all I want back” . . . well, that and $13 million.
The Sun notably agreed to take down the Web versions of the Aug. 8, 2008, and Aug.13, 2008, articles which raise an interesting mix of defamation and false light issues.
Bates was briefly investigated by the Bar but cleared. However, he says that he has lost clients due to the bad publicity.
He was counsel for Charles Robinson, who allegedly robbed Richard Felty of his phone and camera when Felty came to tow Robinson’s car. Some $690 dollars was given Felty, which was portrayed as witness tampering. However, Bates insisted that it was not his doing and was merely a contract between a relative of Robinson and the Auto Barn for towing costs.
Felty later claimed under oath that Robinson was not the man who robbed him — resulting in Robinson being acquitted of all counts.
The article says that Bates and the other defense attorney, Tony Garcia, invoked their Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. But Bates says that is entirely untrue and that other portions of the article left erroneous impressions that Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Shirley M. Watts suggested that Bates may have done something unethical.
Since the articles raise both criminal allegations and unethical professional practices, they fall within per se categories of defamation. While the stories were pulled from the Internet, there does not appear to have been a retraction or correction — which can limit damages.
It will also be interesting to see if Bates is treated as a public figure in light of some of his high-profile cases — forcing him to satisfy the higher standard of the New York Times v. Sullivan case.
Bates is a founding partner at Bates, May and Seddiq. His background page includes the following information:
Mr. Bates worked as an Assistant State’s Attorney for Baltimore City from 1995 to 2002 prosecuting misdemeanor and felony cases and joined the Homicide Division in 2001.
A Cum Laude graduate from Howard University, Mr. Bates attended William and Mary School of Law, in Virginia, where he earned a Juris Doctorate in 1995. Upon graduation, Mr. Bates served as law clerk to the Honorable David B. Mitchell, a Circuit Court judge for Baltimore City.
From 1986 to 1988, Mr. Bates served with the United States Army, during which time he was selected to train at the French Commando School.
The commando training may come in handy in the coming weeks.
For the full story, click here.