Saturday, August 5, 2017

Pete Rose Defamation Suit Demonstrates the Problem With Defamation Suits

On Monday, July 31st, former Cincinnati Reds great filed a defamation suit in a federal court in Pennsylvania.  ESPN reports on the development:
Pete Rose filed a federal defamation lawsuit today against John Dowd, who oversaw the investigation that led to Rose's ban from baseball, for claims Dowd made last summer that Rose had underage girls delivered to him at spring training and that he committed statutory rape.   
The complaint was filed today in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania. It cites a radio interview last summer with a station in West Chester, Pennsylvania, in which Dowd said
, "Michael Bertolini, you know, told us that he not only ran bets but ran young girls down at spring training, ages 12 to 14. Isn't that lovely? So that's statutory rape every time you do that."   
Bertolini was a memorabilia merchant whose taped conversations and other information about Rose's gambling were central to Rose receiving a permanent ban in 1989.   
The lawsuit also cites an interview with CBS Radio in which Dowd said, "He has Bertolini running young women down in Florida for his satisfaction, so you know he's just not worthy of consideration or to be part of the game. This is not what we want to be in the game of baseball."
At the time of the interviews last summer, commissioner Rob Manfred was considering Rose's request for reinstatement. Dowd had appeared on the shows to discuss that topic, and to talk about whether Rose should be eligible for the Hall of Fame. Manfred ultimately denied Rose's request. 
According to the suit, "Ever since Dowd investigated Rose in 1989 and Rose was placed on the Ineligible List, Dowd actively sought to prevent Rose from ever being reinstated by MLB or elected to the Hall of Fame, and he ultimately made maliciously false and reckless claims against Rose."
By way of background, there are certain statements that people can make that are considered "defamation per se," i.e. statements that are considered so damaging to one's reputation that damages will be assumed.   Usually a plaintiff proving actual damages in defamation cases is a huge obstacle.  When a statement is considered "defamation per se" that obstacle is removed.

Accusing someone of crime is defamation per se.  Attorneys know this.   We are generally very careful about accusing people of a crime when that crime has never been charged.  We are taught to use qualifying conditional terms such "alleged," "accused of" when treading into an area of alleging someone, who has never been charged, committed a crime.

John Dowd is an attorney and in fact is currently part of the Trump legal team .  That he would make a statement on a radio show that Rose committed "statutory rape," when Rose has never been charged with any such crime, is reckless.   I can only assume that Dowd's obvious blind hatred of Rose overrode his legal brain when he made such a dumb statement on the radio show.

Unfortunately, for Rose his lawsuit demonstrates the problem with celebrities who file defamation suits...they end up publicizing the very thing they didn't want published in the first place   How did Dowd respond to the Rose lawsuit?  On the same day the Rose lawsuit was filed, Dowd filed a motion (I am not sure what "motion" you'd file at this point of the proceedings), which claims Rose Rose is a womanizer who regularly had sex with teenagers.  In the motion:
Dowd is asking the court to force Rose to answer questions about his sexual relationships, his history of lying and his mental health. Dowd says Rose has, by and large, refused to respond.
"If Rose did not want to answer questions about having sex with teenagers, his well-documented history of lying, or his mental health, he should not have filed this lawsuit," Dowd's motion said.
I am not sure why such a motion would be filed before owd even filed an answer to the complaint mind you. Obviously whether the accusations are true, i.e. that Rose had sex with underage women, is a defense Dowd can assert.  He wouldn't have to file a motion to force Rose to answer questions on that subject.  Undoubtedly Rose's attorney has told him that his sexual history is fair game if he files the lawsuit.  Dowd's filing of the "motion" seems to be nothing more than an attempt to get the media story to be about Rose is a child molester instead of Dowd being a defamer.

Of course now that he's in the middle of a lawsuit, Dowd can make his Rose is a "sexual molester" claims with legal protection. The news media have already picked up on those claims.  Many people on social media are declaring Rose is a pedophile, even though no jurisdiction found the evidence compelling enough to charge Rose with anything and the supposed sexual trysts are some 40 years old.  So much for people being presumed innocent.

And that, folks, is the problem with defamation suits.  You end up publicizing the very thing you didn't want publicized.

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