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A federal appeals court affirms dismissal of psychiatrist's lawsuit

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  1. Libel and Privacy

    NMU         NINTH CIRCUIT         Libel    

A federal appeals court affirms dismissal of psychiatrist’s lawsuit

  • Carole Lieberman appealed her defamation and fraud suit against the attorney who represented the family of a murdered Jenny Jones’ show guest.

Aug. 11, 2003 — A U.S. Court of Appeals panel in Pasadena (9th Cir.) affirmed a U.S. District Court’s dismissal of a psychiatrist’s lawsuit against an attorney who had called her “mentally unbalanced” and accused her of using a case to seek publicity for a book. The attorney, who represented the family of a murdered talk show guest, had hired the psychiatrist but later had a dispute with her over the extent of her involvement in the case.

Scott Amedure was shot and killed by Jonathan Schmitz in 1995, three days after Amedure revealed an attraction to Schmitz during a taping of the “Jenny Jones Show” in Chicago. The segment never aired. Schmitz was convicted of second-degree murder in 1996 and is serving a 25- to 50-year sentence in the Saginaw County prison.

Amedure’s family sued the talk show in 1995, alleging that the show should have known that the actions would incite violence. An Oakland County jury awarded them $29.3 million. An appeals court later reversed the decision.

In preparation for that lawsuit, attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who represented Amedure’s family, contacted Lieberman and paid her a $2,500 retainer to review transcripts and videotapes.

Lieberman later alleged that Fieger “retained her as an expert witness and agreed to compensate her for additional services beyond the actual deposition,” according to court documents, which Fieger denied. Lieberman sued Fieger for breach of contract and fraud, claiming she was not paid according to their agreement.

During an interview with Court TV, a reporter asked Fieger about Lieberman’s lawsuit against him.

Fieger responded by calling Lieberman “mentally unbalanced” and “a terrible witness who was disliked by the jury.”

According to the Ninth Circuit’s written opinion, “Fieger cited Lieberman’s upcoming book and accused her of hunting publicity stating: ‘this thing is being broadcast world-wide and it brings out the Looney Tunes. And this one of the Looney Tunes.'”

After Fieger’s interview, Lieberman added slander to her complaint.

The lower court found that Fieger’s allegedly defamatory statements “constituted an expression of opinion, constitutionally protected by the First Amendment.”

On that basis the district court dismissed Lieberman’s defamation claim.

The court also dismissed her fraud claim because “Lieberman failed to present any evidence that Fieger intended to deceive her.”

(Lieberman v. Fieger) JL

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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