Georgia Woman Takes Home $100,000 Settlement After Bogus Criminal Defamation Arrest By Her Ex-Husband (And Current Deputy)

from the bad-laws-are-bad-lawmen's-best-friends dept

Nearly five years after being unlawfully arrested for violating a law declared unconstitutional thirty-two years ago, the ex-wife of a particularly stupid law enforcement officer is getting paid.

Anne King, former spouse of Washington County (GA) deputy Corey King, posted a rather innocuous complaint about her husband on Facebook. Her post was the usual venting about inadequate assistance coming from the other parent — nothing that justified what came after that. This is taken from Anne King’s original complaint [PDF]:

That moment when everyone in your house has the flu and you ask your kid’s dad to get them (not me) more Motrin and Tylenol and he refuses.

This gathered a few responses from King’s friends, including one that called Deputy Corey King a “POS.” Deputy King didn’t like this. After a few days, Anne took down the post at his request. But this capitulation wasn’t enough for the deputy.

Within days, the ex-husband Capt. Corey King and his colleague and friend, Capt. Trey Burgamy, began paperwork to have Anne King and her friend arrested. Both women were later charged with criminal defamation of character — a law that the Georgia Supreme Court found unconstitutional 32 years earlier.

All criminal defamation laws are unconstitutional. Some still live on, however. They are almost always used by government employees to silence critics. Anne King’s case is no exception. This unconstitutional prosecution was aided greatly by a local magistrate judge who must have been elected for something other than his keen legal mind because he definitely didn’t have one of those. He also didn’t have a law degree — or any degree, for that matter.

[Judge Ralph] Todd was elected to his seat, presiding in the Magistrate Court for more than 13 years after he retired from the U.S. Postal Service. He did not attend college or law school, which Georgia law allows.

This explains the magistrate not being aware the law had been ruled unconstitutional three decades earlier. It also explains his complete misunderstanding of what defamation is and how it works. From the complaint:

At some point, the magistrate surmised that this case “was not actually about harassing phone calls,” but “defamation of character.” He ultimately determined that Ms. King had criminally defamed Officer King and instructed a deputy magistrate to sign a warrant charging Ms. King with “CRIMINAL DEFAMATION.” Ex. C, Warrant.

[…]

During the hearing, the magistrate even threatened to “ban [Ms. King] from Facebook.”

Hines asked the magistrate about her First Amendment rights. “You can call Mr. King a piece of shit to his face,” the magistrate said. “You can even tell someone else you think he is a piece of shit. But you can’t post it out for the public to see. That’s defamation of character.”

Calling someone a “piece of shit” is protected opinion, no matter how it’s conveyed. But in Judge Todd’s court, it’s a crime.

King sued. Five years later, she’s finally receiving a $100,000 settlement. She also received an apology and an admission of wrongdoing, which is kind of a rarity when settlements are handed out.

We apologize for the pain caused and time wasted including Ms. King being charged and arrested with respect to what was really a personal dispute that should have ended without the involvement of the courts.

The only reason any criminal defamation laws are still on the books anywhere in the United States is because government employees and officials have found them too useful to remove completely. Even when it inevitably ends in courtroom losses, the ability to disrupt the lives of critics is still priceless, if ultimately valueless.

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Comments on “Georgia Woman Takes Home $100,000 Settlement After Bogus Criminal Defamation Arrest By Her Ex-Husband (And Current Deputy)”

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23 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t think all criminal defamation laws have been found unconstitutional.

https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/941/criminal-libel

This is what I found and some of them, like the ones to prevent people from creating runs on otherwise viable banks(ie great depression), have a good chance of being upheld.

Many have been found to be unconstitutional however.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

"I don’t think all criminal defamation laws have been found unconstitutional."

Possibly not all of them as maybe a case has not been brought before it.
I find the concept of criminal defamation to be abhorrent. If the crime is causing a bank run, due to known incorrect statements, then are there no other existing laws to levy upon the convicts? Defamation is not what is the problem, it is lying that is the problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Also, from what I can see, Mrs. King published a statement of fact, and her friend called him a POS.

According to https://www.acronymfinder.com/POS.html there are 109 meanings of that acronym. The one the Judge decided was meant isn’t anywhere near the top… in fact, it’s right beside "Positively Outrageous Service" which would fit here just as well. There’s also Person of Suspicion and Position of Strength that both work and rank much higher on acronym use.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You state that there is a criminal defamation law to protect banks, which your source agrees with, but you state a motive that is not in evidence.

The issue when you deal with a bank run is not that the reputation of the bank is harmed generally, but that it undermines public confidence in the banks in general – you don’t just harm one bank, you harm the reputation of the entire financial system. I can potentially support efforts to criminalize such attempts if narrowly tailored. But defamation law is not the vehicle for such a crime, and the bank defamation law is not narrowly tailored to fight the undermining of the financial system, and would target protected speech in the public interest about the services provided by a Bank, for instance. And under that circumstance I can’t see how it would pass constitutional muster.

Side note, the great depression was not the result of a run on the banks. It was the result of reckless investment and lending practices that fell apart when economic indicators drove high-profile investors to sell off stocks as spending slowed, triggering a mass liquidation of stocks. No amount of defamation law would have fixed that situation. A run on the banks did occur in the wake of the market crash, but it was because investors (those with large balances that effectively funded bank lending) were concerned that with the crash and reckless lending of the past decade, banks wouldn’t be fully solvent. That was a genuine concern given the number of bank failures in the preceding decades. Defamation law would not have fixed issues with a depositor’s opinion of the future solvency of a bank. (Indeed, we don’t have runs on the bank now primarily because of the FDIC, not a bar on talking bad about banks).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Ugghhh you have a greatly simplified view of the great depression. It was not one thing.

First, the great depression covered most of the globe in some way. It was not confined to the United States.

Second, there was environment destroying farming practices that led to the dust bowl that depressed the entire farming sector.

Third, there were the stock cheats and robber barons manipulating the financial system.

Fourth, there were insufficient regulations for ‘honest’ banks that allowed their owners to use deposits to speculate on the stock market.

Additionally, runs on the banks was one of the major problems that contributed to the economic crisis that sustained the great depression. Some of those runs were caused by false rumors and the bank would have been fine if not for the rumors.

That law is obviously leftover from the great depression and the bank runs associated with it. I’m sure there’s a wikipedia article or something better if you want a better understanding of the great depression.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I actually have a robust understanding of the great depression’s interlocking issues. Bank runs were a major issue, but even those caused by rumors were prompted by the stock crash and the existing economic failings that prompted and were made worse by it. Factually, most banks had a ton of bad loans on the books. I’m just not in a space to write a research paper on the subject.

In the end None of the statements you make here really address my central claims concerning the ability of defamation law around banks to withstand to modern judicial scrutiny and function as an effective control on rumor and opinion (protected speech) about the long term solvency of banks.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Judges have absolute immunity to civil lawsuits for things they do in their official capacity. This is much like the qualified immunity police have, but taken up to 11 — a judge can deliberately commit every abuse of power in the book with regards to railroading someone, and you cannot ever sue them.

Absolute immunity, like qualified immunity, doesn’t stem from any actual law — Congress did not create a law granting either sort of civil immunity (and it would have been unconstitutional if they did), and courts cannot create new laws. But that’s exactly what the US Supreme Court did, in making police, prosecutors and judges exempt from lawsuits. The court simply refuses to hear the case and jails the plaintiff for contempt if they don’t shut up when told to.

But there’s a bright side to this, at least in theory. NO ONE has immunity to criminal charges, and violating any civil, statutory or constitutional right under color of law (aka in their official capacity while employed by the government) is a federal crime.

Even the most minor violation by an individual official is a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of a year in prison. If two or more work together to violate a right, it’s a felony and the penalty jumps to ten years in prison. If someone dies as a result of the violation, life without parole or execution are on the table.

I said in theory because it is VERY hard to get the Department of Justice to prosecute a cop, let alone a prosecutor or judge, despite the law saying in plain English what it criminalizes.

bob says:

setting the bar looooooow.

[Judge Ralph] Todd was elected to his seat, presiding in the Magistrate Court for more than 13 years after he retired from the U.S. Postal Service. He did not attend college or law school, which Georgia law allows

Electing a judge with no legal training. Wow Georgia, wow.

I could see this happening in an isolated part of the world where people don’t have access to communication equipment, schooling, and common sense. But Georgia?

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