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Defamation Judgment Against Montana Blogger Reflects the Messy Nature of U.S. Courts

By       Message Roger Shuler     Permalink
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Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer

Many citizens probably think American courts are orderly places, where questions of facts are reasonably decided and the actual law is scrupulously applied. Those citizens almost certainly have never been involved in a legal case.

I know, from first-hand experience, that our courts are anything but neat and tidy. Everyone involved in the process--parties, lawyers, clerks, judges--is prone to mistakes. Even a case where the judge is competent and honest is likely to involve numerous rulings that are based on mistaken interpretations of fact or law.

Actually, I'm just guessing about that last sentence because I've never been involved in a case where the judge was either competent or honest. I can only assume that such judges do, in fact, exist somewhere.

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With all of that in mind, let's examine the case of Crystal L. Cox, the Montana blogger who recently was hit with a $2.5-million judgment in a defamation case. Were mistakes made in the Cox case? I think you can bet on it.

Key documents from the case are available at the Web site for the Citizen Media Law Project.

God only knows how many Americans have been wrongly convicted for "crimes" that were not lawfully proven in a court of law. God also only knows how many Americans have been held liable in civil proceedings that were butchered from start to finish.

I know all about the official ineptness that accompanies all too many lawsuits in U.S. courts. Mrs. Schnauzer and I have a bogus sheriff's deed on our house because of a judgment in a case against me that, by law, could not go to trial. Sherry Carroll Rollins, the subject of numerous posts here at Legal Schnauzer, is living under a divorce decree that was issued by an Alabama judge--even though he had no jurisdiction to hear the case. That's because the case had already been litigated for roughly three years in South Carolina, where Ms. Rollins properly filed it. Ted Rollins, Ms. Rollins' ex husband, belongs to one of America's wealthiest family--and he apparently had the kind of financial clout that can get a divorce case unlawfully shifted from one venue to another. Some people call that "judge shopping." To make matters even worse, Ted Rollins has been a fugitive from justice for failure to pay child support.

With that as a back drop, let's look at the Crystal L. Cox case. My research indicates that both parties probably made mistakes, both before and during the legal action. More importantly, we see clear signs that the judge made mistakes--and that means the judgment against Cox almost certainly should be overturned on appeal. Here are the leading characters and some mistakes they appear to have made:

Crystal L. Cox

Cox has been the subject of two unflattering pieces in the mainstream press. One is titled "When Truth Survives Free Speech," by David Carr, of The New York Times. The other is titled "Why An Investment Firm Was Awarded $2.5 Million After Being Defamed By A Blogger," by Kashmir Hill, of Forbes.

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Carr and Hill level a number of criticisms at Cox, but here are two that jump out at me:

(1) Cox was practicing search engine optimization (SEO), not journalism--Cox states in court documents that she holds some 400 Web-site domains. Why? Hill hints that it is an intentional effort to dominate search results for her targets. And in the case that wound up in court, Cox' target was Obsidian Finance Group and one of its principals, Kevin Padrick. Writes Hill:

Obsidian's tech team found dozens of sites that appeared to have been created by Cox to write about Obsidian, says Padrick, and over 1,900 others that she had created to write about other people and companies. This is not the work of a journalist, but the work of someone intent on destroying reputations.

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I live in Birmingham, Alabama, and work in higher education. I became interested in justice-related issues after experiencing gross judicial corruption in Alabama state courts. This corruption has a strong political component. The corrupt judges are (more...)

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