We have an interesting defamation case out of California where Courtney Love was found not guilty of an allegedly defamatory tweet directed against her former attorney Rhonda Holmes. The increase in social media and Twitter has led to new challenges under defamation law that we have been following. Such “twibel” cases are still evolving in terms of the standards and potential liability. In this case, Love had sent a tweet reading “I was f***ing devestated [sic] when Rhonda J. Holmes esq. of san diego was bought off.”
This is not the first such tweet that has gotten Love into hot water over defamation.
In this case, Love hired Holmes to handle a fraud case against the people managing the estate of Kurt Cobain, her late husband. Holmes said that the tweet suggested unprofessional conduct on her part to the detriment of her reputation. Being “brought off” clearly does raise potentially criminal conduct and certain unethical conduct by a lawyer.
Making the case more difficult was the fact that Holmes was considered a limited-purpose public figure as a result of her connection to a celebrity. This put here under the New York Times v. Sullivan standard requiring her to prove actual malice with evidence of either knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard of the truth by Love.
Love insisted that the tweet was meant to be a private message that sent sent out by mistake and quickly deleted. Indeed, she accused Holmes of making the Tweet known to everyone with her litigation: “Twas the tweet in the forest that no one saw, with the exception of one or two people. That is, of course, before and until Holmes filed this lawsuit and published the tweet to the public at large, seeking to recover money from me.”
Love also argued that she believed it to be true. The jury appeared agreed, or at least did not feel that Holmes had been able to prove her allegation by a preponderance of the evidence. The trial last eight days, a long proceeding for such an insular claim of defamation.
The attorney unloaded on Love on the stand. Their contract only lasted six months and Holmes said that the relationship had been contingent on Love refraining from substance abuse. She said that Love resented the condition and that Love would not return her calls.
Of course, that could hardly come as a surprise when you sign on to represent Courtney Love who hardly has a reputation for predictable and civil conduct.