Tuesday, January 19, 2016
sunEthics sunEthics has a report on a decision that will hearten lawyers who are trashed on line by former clients
Lawyer Giustibelli represented Blake in a divorce from her husband, Birzon. After a breakdown in the attorney-client relationship, Blake and Birzon posted negative online reviews regarding Giustibelli. The reviews stated that Giustibelli charged Blake 4 times the amount of fees originally quoted, that she lacked integrity, and that she falsified a contract. Alleging that the reviews were defamatory, Giustibelli sued Blake and Birzon for libel. The trial court entered a judgment of $350,000 in punitive damages for Giustibelli. Blake and Birzon appealed.
The Fourth DCA affirmed. Blake and Birzon contended that “their internet reviews constituted statements of opinion and thus were protected by the First Amendment and not actionable as defamation.” The appeals court disagreed. “all the reviews contained allegations that Giustibelli lied to Blake regarding the attorney’s fee. Two of the reviews contained the allegation that Giustibelli falsified a contract. These are factual allegations, and the evidence showed they were false.” Appellants’ reliance on Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc. 418 U.S. 323 (1974), was misplaced. Giustibelli was not a media defendant, and for non-media defendants libel per se still exists in Florida. Blake v. Giustibelli, __ So.3d __ (Fla. 4th DCA, No. 4D14-3231, 1/6/2016), 2016 WL _______.