The Falwell Fiasco and the Curious Absence of a Defamation Lawsuit

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The media coverage of the scandal involving Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. has been overwhelming.  That is to be expected. An evangelical figure leaves his post at a religious university after a photo with his pants unzipped on a yacht owned by a Nascar mogul who received lucrative deals with the university. Then came the allegations of Giancarlo Granda that he had a long time sexual relationship with Falwell’s wife Becki and Rev. Falwell liked to watch the sexual trysts. Falwell has alleged that Granda was extorting money.  Michael Cohen, the thuggish former counsel for President Donald Trump, is even involved. In this tsunami of coverage, the interesting element is the one that is missing: no one has threatened a defamation action. Such a lawsuit could raise some interesting issues under the common law.

The two men have one to two years depending on the jurisdiction, but there has been no word of a notice letter or threat of a defamation case. There is also an absence of a criminal complaint despite the public claim of a criminal act. Falwell, who received a J.D. from the University of Virginia, is no doubt well versed in such options.

Falwell went public an acknowledged the affair between Granda and his wife.  His statement clearly accuses Granda of a criminal act:

“During a vacation over eight years ago, Becki and I met an ambitious young man who was working at our hotel and was saving up his money to go to school. We encouraged him to pursue an education and a career and we were impressed by his initiative in suggesting a local real estate opportunity. My family members eventually made an investment in a local property, included him in the deal because he could play an active role in managing it, and became close with him and his family.

Shortly thereafter, Becki had an inappropriate personal relationship with this person, something in which I was not involved — it was nonetheless very upsetting to learn about. After I learned this, I lost 80 pounds and people who saw me regularly thought that I was physically unwell, when in reality I was just balancing how to be most supportive of Becki, who I love, while also reflecting and praying about whether there were ways I could have been more supportive of her and given her proper attention.”

While we tried to distance ourselves from him over time, he unfortunately became increasingly angry and aggressive. Eventually, he began threatening to publicly reveal this secret relationship with Becki and to deliberately embarrass my wife, family, and Liberty University unless we agreed to pay him substantial monies.”

For his part, Granda has clearly accused Falwell of moral turpitude and depravity in an affair that began in 2012 and gives a detailed account of being picked up by Becki and, as they were heading to her hotel room, allegedly stating “‘But one thing . . . My husband likes to watch.'” He then alleges that Falwell regularly watched them have sex as a type of fetish.

One would think that with those statements, someone would sue someone for defamation.

Granda v. Falwell

If Falwell is lying, Granda clearly has a case for defamation. Indeed, what Falwell stated would be a case of slander per se as well as libel.  Under Florida law, it is libelous per se to impute to another a criminal offense amounting to a felony. Klayman v. Judicial Watch, Inc., 22 F. Supp. 3d 1240 (S.D. Fla. 2014). There is no question that what Falwell is describing is criminal extortion.

Here is the Florida provision:

836.05 Threats; extortion.Whoever, either verbally or by a written or printed communication, maliciously threatens to accuse another of any crime or offense, or by such communication maliciously threatens an injury to the person, property or reputation of another, or maliciously threatens to expose another to disgrace, or to expose any secret affecting another, or to impute any deformity or lack of chastity to another, with intent thereby to extort money or any pecuniary advantage whatsoever, or with intent to compel the person so threatened, or any other person, to do any act or refrain from doing any act against his or her will, shall be guilty of a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

This would seem an allegation that that Granda “maliciously threatens to expose another to disgrace.”

Of course, truth is a defense to defamation, but if this is false, Granda should sue.

Falwell v. Granda

Under the common law, per se categories include statements alleging moral turpitude and unchastity as per se categories of defamation.  This could not be more of a prototypical case of alleged moral turpitude.

This lawsuit would raise an interesting aspect to common law torts.  Obviously, some of the traditional categories are inherently sexists like saying that impugning the chastity of a women (rather than men) is defamation. However, there is also debate over the continued viability of moral turpitude as a category given the varied opinions on what constitutes a moral lifestyle. This came up in the 1950s in a bizarre case involving homosexuality as a defamatory accusation. In Neiman-Marcus v. Lait, 13 FRD 311 (SDNY 1952), employees of that high-end story sued the author of a book titled “U.S.A. Confidential.” The book claimed that some of the models at the story and all of the saleswomen in the Dallas store were “call girls.” It further stated that most of the salesmen in the men’s department were “faggots.” The issue came down to the size of the group. With 382 saleswomen and models, the court found that the group was too large. However, with the 25 salesmen, the court found that an action could be maintained.

Today most of us would oppose the use of homosexuality as per se defamatory, any more than heterosexuality, as a claim.  Indeed, a court held that homosexuality is not a per se category. Some individuals however can still claim that their positions can make otherwise common non-defamatory remarks defamatory in the context of their case or lives. Falwell is an evangelical figure and this fetish allegation is devastating for his position in his community. In some ways, this argument moves the focus from moral turpitude to professional standing. That remains an area that courts will have to explore in the years to come.

Becki Falwell could also sue and, since she regularly appears with her husband at religious events, could claim the same loss of standing.

Again, truth is a defense, but if this is false, Falwell should sue.

So someone should use if any of this is untrue. The question is whether someone will.

36 thoughts on “The Falwell Fiasco and the Curious Absence of a Defamation Lawsuit”

  1. It’s just starting. Professor, you are a good lawyer and I doubt if you would be jumping in right now. It takes time to assess the best way to go after these three. This is far, far from over.

  2. Sorry, Professor, but I disagree: After what the Supreme Court has done with libel laws, no one who has any publicity or renown can expect to prevail. As a result, the nasty Liars have just gotten nastier and more prolific. As my father used to say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Sullivan must be overturned!

  3. A sinner can’t lead a church?

    What have Catholics been doing with kids for hundreds or thousands of years?

    “So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

    – John 8: 7

    Churches are filled with confessed and repentant sinners, by design.

    1. The Bible also says, “You shall know them by their fruit.” Social scientists have measured the rate of criminality and immorality of so-called “Christians” vs. non-Christians. Few are surprised to hear there’s little to no difference, and Falwell only confirms the studies. Church-going folk would have you believe the false narrative they are better wherein they most certainly are not in any metric that matters. They just THINK and WANT YOU TO THINK they are better.

      That’s why the current rate in the US has grown to about 55% who specify no sect nor church relationship, and that rate only grows from here on out till TPTB achieve their goal of totalitarianism replacing democracy and The Republic. At that point, Christianity will be outlawed like it was pre-Constantine, and believers will have to practice conventicle as they did under Plato, who specified the death penalty for that act.

      It’s quite strange and interesting that when Christianity was a dirty word (Scriptural times and later till Constantine inverted everything), when Christians suffered the risk of death for being outed, that’s when Christians were most like Christ.

      Nowadays modern “evangelicals” join the military and kill others to be like Christ. Modern “evangelicals” are simply Zionists masquerading as Christians, more akin to Constantine that Christ.

      Constantine’s first use of the “P” with elongated stem and “x” at the bottom of the stem (PX = Latin for CH, Christ’s first two letters) was in the form of a staff leading the Roman army into battle. IOW, Constantine desired the help of this Christ super-god to help him win military battles, the same as today. (Read the letters of both the Northern and Southern Generals praying for Christ to help them kill each other.)

      Those two Latin letters still adorn the robes of the modern Catholic Priest.

      1. Social scientists have measured the rate of criminality and immorality of so-called “Christians” vs. non-Christians. Few are surprised to hear there’s little to no difference,

        I’m sure you’ve meticulously compiled a bibliography.

        Nowadays modern “evangelicals” join the military and kill others to be like Christ. Modern “evangelicals” are simply Zionists masquerading as Christians, more akin to Constantine that Christ.

        Well, we’ve found the nut of it for you.

        There are people who have to contend with you in meatspace. Sympathetic characters, they.

        1. There are countless innocent victims of bloodshed at the hands of evangelicals in the name of God, and their enablers like yourself.

          What pray tell is the difference between a Zionist and a modern evangelical? The largest US evangelical sect is the SBC. If an established member of the SBC, someone paying their tithe religiously for 30 years walks up to their “pastor” and gives that pastor a signed and dated document stating that “the modern State of Israel is not the fulfillment of OT Israel,” said Pastor would give said person about 24 hours to repent, and if said person did not repent, that person would be officially and permanently kicked out the church till they did repent.

          Instead of tossing around the Anti-Semite slur coming, I challenge you to state for the record what I just posted is false. The SBC requires persons to believe modern Israel is the fulfillment of OT Israel. Anyone reading this can call their local SBC pastor and ask him.

          Further proof of the evangelical lie Re. Israel. Anyone reading this can confirm this with most “Evangelicals” but positively with any SBC member. Ask them about this verse: “I shall bless those who bless the, and curse those who curse thee.” Note God spoke this to Abraham before Abraham had any children.
          Later Abraham had the son Isaac who later had the son Jacob, and God later changed Jacob’s name to Israel. SBC strict interpretation of the above verse: God shall bless those who bless the modern nation of Israel, and curse those who curse the modern nation of Israel.

          Strangely and incoherently, God’s pronoun “you” referred only to Abraham proper and no one else. How and why could God speak to Abraham in secret code referring to a nation the US and League of Nations invented by force in the middle east 2k years later, called “Israel?” Esp.2 generations prior to the existence of Israel the person (Jacob) and OT Israel? Where and how did the SBC uncover the secret interpretive code proving that God lied to Abraham (God said “you” when he meant not a person but rather a non-existent nuclear powered nation 2k years later). Kind of absurd except to Zionists by the name “Absurd.”

          The Zionist meatspace with which Absurd is most familiar is the one in his head.

          1. The evangelical pastor who preached to us my first year in college told us the story of both of Abraham’s sons, Isaac by Sarah, and Ishmael by his and Sarah’s handmaid Hagar – and how the strife between moden Israelis and Ishmael’s descendants the Arabs came about. That congregation wasn’t SBC, and nor are most US policy makers.

        2. I’ll let the SBC itself prove the lie to your position:https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/evangelicals-support-israel-disagree-on-why/

          Cliff Notes version, from the link: “Evangelicals Support Israel.” The biggest, most reliable, and most unanimous group of America supporters of endless ME wars and military excursions are American so-called evangelicals, who are, as a group, Zionists masquerading as followers of Christ. No single group comes and obeys POTUS commands to ME war so easily and so reliably as evangelicals.

      2. Tohar

        “Constantine’s first use of the “P” with elongated stem and “x” at the bottom of the stem (PX = Latin for CH, Christ’s first two letters) was in the form of a staff leading the Roman army into battle. IOW, Constantine desired the help of this Christ super-god to help him win military battles, the same as today…Those two Latin letters still adorn the robes of the modern Catholic Priest.”

        SO WHAT. I LOVE THAT KIND OF STUFF. SPQR! IN HOC SIGNO VINCES! AVE SOL INVICTUS! oh wait that was for Mithras. whatever!
        A thousand years of Byzantium was good for the world.

        Are we better off now that the Turks have desecrated the Hagia Sophia museum and made it back into a mosque? I don’t think so. Maybe you do. I grow tired of hearing how awful the Israelis are. I have reckoned who hates the Israelis and noticed a lot of them hate people like me too. So now I think, let them fight their own battles against Israel. that’s not my beef. And meanwhile I have a few bronze coins with Constantine’s face and an icon of his mom and far as I am concerned, he WAS a hero.

  4. Turley’s analysis is instructive as to defamation law, but the rationale for the current posture is much simpler

    a) Granda prolly did give Becky carnal knowledge, and Fallwell prolly did watch

    b) Granda prolly did try and leverage this into extortion and some sort of illegal advantage

    the two cancel each other out, there’s already a civil case, this just makes the water that much murkier.

    nobody will bother wasting money on a defamation case under this dynamic

    if either one tried to hire me for it, I would tell them no. it would not benefit either side. good lawyers don’t make their bread off of hurting clients, rather, by helping them

  5. These parties obviously have had an intense personal relationship. It’s not at all surprising that neither one would be particularly eager to sue. Especially Falwell where such a suit would promise to both expose him and his wife to further shame by exposing salacious details of their sex lives.

    Also, the people involved may have feelings for each other. Especially if Falwell was truly involved.

  6. This “evangelical” cucks himself then blames his wife for it when he gets caught; what a loser. He’s no longer an active participant in Liberty U’s affairs so I guess he’ll have to watch from the C̶o̶r̶n̶e̶r̶ sidelines.

  7. Don’t remember the “pool boy” in the movie “Fletch Lives” with Chevy Chase. Was there a swimming pool at Belle Isle?

  8. You’re forgetting the first rule of defamation, which is that you daren’t file the suit unless you’re prepared to answer discovery, including sitting for a deposition. There’s a chance that at least some of these allegations are substantially true, and there’s a high probability that the various parties have compromising information on each other that could be revealed if they were under oath. If a significant subset of the allegations have even a nodding acquaintance with reality, it would be madness for any of these parties to litigate defamation.

    For any of them to file suit would be like paying someone to kick them in the jimmies – another expensive and painful experience that, blessedly, Mr. Falwell is not yet accused of.

  9. When will the Left issue an apology to LGBT for all of their references about gay indiscretions, gay pool boy jokes and otherwise hateful comments based on alleged homosexual orientation?

    It turns out the pool boy was banging Falwell’s wife for years and there was nothing gay at all involved….but now they have the married personal trainer to use gay jokes at the expense of LGBT

    Unbelievable…or should I say…so predictable.

    1. very astute observation and thanks for reminding us of the duplicity of the identity politics peddling hypocrites

    2. If you pay attention, Tara, the ‘Left’ already has much for which to apologize. Let’s see now: floods, fires, Covid-19, the economy when it tanks, the devil, Pelosi, Obama, Biden, Harris, rotten teeth, hell and damnation, hurricanes, and on and on. Read some of the nutcases that post here and you will see that you need to take a number for an apology to LGBT ‘for all of their references about gay indiscretions’…

    3. When will the Left issue an apology to LGBT for all of their references about gay indiscretions, gay pool boy jokes and otherwise hateful comments based on alleged homosexual orientation?

      When will politicized homosexuals quit being narcissistic jerks fancying they should be immune to criticism and caricature?

  10. Dear Dr. Turley, before you comment on something, you need to get your facts straight. Jerry Falwell, Jr is a LAWYER, not a “minister.” He received his law degree from the University of Virginia. He is/was the administrator of Liberty University. His younger brother Jonathon is the pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church and is the minister. As to this alleged scandal, at this point all we have are allegations. At worst, it’s Falwell’s wife, not him, who was engaged in a sexual affair. As for Granda, who knows but he sounds very much like a conman.

  11. 1. He’s not a clergyman. That’s his brother. He’s a lawyer and NGO administrator.

    2. He is, however, in charge of an evangelical apostolate. He’s 58, and any man of 58 looks silly clowning around on someone’s boat, even if nothing precisely untoward occurred. He’s in a button-down occupation and his obligation to present himself properly are enhanced because it is an evangelical apostolate.

    3. Institutions have contractors. People entertain. They invite all sorts of people to their homes. Unless you have evidence of self-dealing, making insinuations of this nature is skeevy.

    4. We don’t know what the truth is here. We just know someone is lying.

    5. It’s time for Falwell to take early retirement. Most men of 58 don’t have these problems. Even though they’re not particularly gross problems, when you’re below the median, you need to be out of positions of leadership. In his position, the job and the life go together. Deal Hudson, once editor of Crisis was raked over the coals some years ago for incidents in his past that his constituency didn’t know about before. As repellent as Hudson’s detractors were and are, he needed to get off stage and he did, retreating to a fund-raising position. That needs to happen here.

  12. If you have been following the he said, she said, they said in the Amber Heard vs Johnny Depp vs. The Sun, you would see that most people are well advised not sue.

    1. E. Howard Hunt was asked on Larry King many years ago why he tolerated nutty accusations against him. He said he’d been a party to one defamation suit and after that, never again. Part of it I suspect is the nature of the beast. Part of it is our awful judge-manufactured law in this area.

      1. TIA:

        Defamation suits are always about the conduct of the Plaintiff. I’ve defended and brought one in each category. The former was much easier. In that case, we “lost” but the jury awarded just $1.00 (trebled to $3.00). We “paid” opposing counsel at lunch.

      2. Was it so nutty,. The author of the story was a reputable CIA veteran who testified before the Church committee.

        Hunt’s original favorable verdict was overturned.

        https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/F2/720/631/425101/

        Hunt did not drop it. There was no “once.” He took a second bite at the apple. And he lost.

        The second pass at it. the defense won against Hunt. The jury believed Marchetti, ie, that Hunt had been part of a cabal involved in the assassination of JFK.

        and curiously, seems like Hunt admitted it decades later, as he neared death.

        If it was so nutty, then why did a jury buy it, and more importantly,why did Hunt admit it later in life.

        I know YOU think it’s nutty, but apparently, Hunt was of two different opinions about it, across his lifetime

        1. The jury believed Marchetti, ie, that Hunt had been part of a cabal involved in the assassination of JFK.

          Which jury, and why should I care?

          You’re an easy mark for this cr!p

          Hunt was demented at the time of his death and manipulated by his grifter son. Other members of the family have been furious with the son since.

          Instead of building castles in the air, you might try some inductive reasoning around known data. The assassin’s name was Lee Harvey Oswald, btw.

  13. With a lawsuit comes discovery, and it could very well be that Mr. Granda cares more about the hidden remaining that way.

  14. It must be tough playing Jesus all day long. A guy’s got to bust loose from time to time. After all, isn’t that what forgiveness is all about. Who knows what perversions lurk in the souls of men and women? Jerry do.

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