Sunday, January 21, 2007

Editorial: Free speech has its limits

Posted on November 1, 2006

People who may believe they can say whatever they want on the Internet should consider a recent verdict in a Florida courtroom.

A jury awarded the head of a children's services referral company $11.3 million in damages in one of the largest-ever awards in an Internet defamation suit, according to The Associated Press.

The suit was filed in 2003 by Sue Scheff of Weston, founder of Parent's Universal Resource Experts, after a former client, Carey Bock of Louisiana, posted comments on the Internet calling Scheff a "con artist" and a "fraud."

Such language is mild compared to many comments and rants posted on various Internet sites. But, making defaming comments on the Internet is no different than making such comments in other public arenas, the jury found.

"Just because you don't like someone or what they do, it does not give you carte blanche to post false statements about a person on the Internet," Scheff told the AP.

David H. Pollack, Scheff's attorney, said, "You can't just destroy somebody's life, destroy somebody's reputation and make blatant false statements about somebody and have there be no consequences."

The $11.3 million judgment against Bock included $5 million in punitive damages.

The message should be clear. While the Internet may be an easy place to vent anger or frustration at people or agencies, what is posted can come back to cause even more problems for the person posting.

Internet defamation suits are rare so far, but if the jury award in Florida helps set a precedent, more such suits can be expected.

So, say what you want in private. But, if you go into a public site on the Internet, be cautious — and act civilly. The person you are attacking may also be watching the site with an attorney only a phone call away.

Internet Defamation can carry a Big Price Tag

Internet Defamation can carry a Big Price Tag

Daya Gamage – US National Correspondent for Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 12 October (Asiantribune.com): A Florida woman who won a lawsuit against a Louisiana woman, who posted messages on the internet accusing her of being a "crook" and a "fraud" said of the State of Florida’s Broward Circuit Court jury award of $11.3 million "People are using the internet to destroy people they don’t like, and you can’t do that."

Susan Scheff and her Weston-based company, Parents Universal Resource Experts Inc., won the jury verdict in Broward Circuit Court in Florida against Carey Bock for posting defamatory statements about her on an internet bulletin board viewed by parents, according to court pleadings.

In this case, the Broward Circuit Court jury sends a strong message that freedom of speech has limits, and the case will make people think twice before setting out on a campaign to destroy others.

The verdict joins the increasing number of litigation in the United States over the content of Internet sites, blogs, online bulletin boards and e-mails that target to defame characters of others with the motive of tarnishing their image and destroy them.

Susan Scheff filed the suit in December 2003, and the jury gave the verdict on September 19, 2006. After her daughter was abused and harmed at a teen help program (World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools, WWASPS, Carolina Spring Academy), she set out to help others so they would not fall into the same trap.

WWASPS, a corporate giant, filed a law suit against Ms. Scheff in 2002 in an attempt to silence her. She prevailed in a jury trail. WWASPS filed an appeal and again Ms. Scheff prevailed.

It is not often a person is awarded $11.3 million from a jury of their peers. But in the case of Susan Scheff and her organization Parent’s Universal Resource Experts, Inc. (PURE) v. Carey Bock, the Broward Circuit Court jury in Florida felt compelled to send a very strong message – which they have. Included in their 11.3 million dollar verdict, they awarded Ms. Scheff and PURE $5 million in punitive damages. "The punitive damages speak volumes," says Scheff, "it was set to punish the defendant for what she did to my children and me. Just because you don’t like someone or what they do, it does not give you carte blanche to post false statements about a person on the internet."

Since 2001 PURE and Sue Scheff have helped thousands of families providing various resources for their children as well as works closely with the Coalition Against Institutionalized Child Abuse (CAICA).

The defendant Carey Bock maliciously and intentionally started a campaign on Internet forums against Sue Scheff and her organization, PURE, and the jury accepted it declaring defamation of character.

"This is a new area of law," said Susan Scheff’s attorney, David H. Pollack of Miami. "The problem with the Internet is people can post anything about you and it can destroy you."

Asian Tribune