Judge Changes Mind, Says James Woods Can Likely Unmask Guy Who Made Fun Of Him On Twitter

from the clownboy dept

Last summer, we noted a crazy case in which the famous Hollywood actor James Woods sued a random Twitter troll who had been making fun of Woods. The anonymous troll, who went by the name Abe List, mocked some of Woods' own nonsensical tweets about Caitlyn Jenner and Planned Parenthood by saying:
"@RealJamesWoods @benshapiro cocaine addict James Woods still sniffing and spouting."

-- Abe List (@abelist) July 15, 2015
As the lawsuit noted, Abe List had also mocked Woods in the past, such as calling him a "clown-boy." Of course "clown-boy" is not something than a statement of fact and thus can't be defamation. The real issue is whether or not saying "cocaine addict James Woods" is a statement of fact that is defamatory. Of course, considering that Woods is a public figure, this seemed like a really high bar to cross. With a public figure, the statements need to be made "with actual malice" or a "reckless disregard for the truth." In other words, it needs to be a case where Abe List knew those things weren't true, but said them anyway. That seems unlikely here. Oh yeah, and also, hyperbolic statements that are obviously hyperbole are not considered defamation, and this one seemed to qualify.

On top of all that, once Abe List got some lawyers (including Ken "Popehat" White), they pointed out that Woods himself had a rather long history of making similarly hyperbolic statements about people on Twitter. In fact, nearly identical ones:
Twitter also stepped in and refused to comply with the subpoena to identify Abe List, agreeing that we have a First Amendment right to speak anonymously, and that it did not think that Woods had a legitimate defamation case to unmask Abe List.

Abe List made an anti-SLAPP claim in California, which should stop all discovery and hopefully get the case tossed -- and things seemed to be going his way. Back in November, Woods' lawyers tried to move forward in discovering Abe List's identity but the judge rejected that plan.

Then, earlier this month, there was a hearing, and LA Superior Court judge Mel Recana, appeared to side with Abe List, issuing a 10-page tentative ruling dismissing the case. In that tentative ruling, Judge Recana noted:
The court finds that as a matter of law, in consideration of the totality of the circumstances, the tweet at issue is not a statement of fact but rather "rhetorical hyperbole, vigorous epithets, lusty and imaginative expressions of contempt and language used in a loose figurative sense" that does not support a defamation action.... The tweet cannot be reasonably interpreted as stating actual facts about James Woods. Both tweets were in the context of expressing inflammatory opinions. There was no indicia of reliability as to defendant's tweets.
That was February 2nd. So, you can imagine basically everyone's surprise, when less than a week later, Judge Recana released a 1-page final order that says the exact opposite:
As contended by plaintiff: Applying the totality of circumstances test, and examining the plain language of the Tweet, it is clear that any reader of the AL False Statement could and indeed must view it as a statement of fact. As described by Professor Finegan, AL's use of a prenomial characterization (i.e., "cocaine addict") followed by a proper noun (i.e., "James Woods") is a well-established linguistic structure widely used to characterize people with shorthand factual information. Prof. Finegan's opinion that "many if not all readers of the 'cocaine addict' Tweet will understand and interpret Abe List to be making a factual claim about James Woods -- namely that he is a cocaine addict' is on an issue of fact. His opinion is sufficiently beyond common experience and assists the trier of fact.
It's hard to underscore how surprising and ridiculous this ruling is. Yes, putting a descriptive term in front of a name can be viewed as a factual statement, but the law requires you to put them into context, and here the judge is completely ignoring that, and bizarrely claiming that people literally "must view it as a statement of fact" even though basically no one would do so. It's also bizarre given the original tentative ruling that a judge would so completely flip positions within a matter of days.

One of Abe List's lawyers, Lisa Bloom, has put out a statement saying that they will be appealing this ruling:
On Twitter, Mr. Woods enjoys calling strangers "clown," "rat," "scum," and other epithets. Mr. Woods insults gay Americans and immigrants. he brags that he could murder a man whose shirt offends him. He claims a prominent publisher "whacks off" to a picture of a terrorist. When Twitter users challenge him, he tells them to "put down your crack pipe." He's mockingly accused at least three other Twitter users of using crack cociane.

Mr. Woods dishes it out, but he can't take it. When not-famous, not-wealthy John Doe responded to a James Woods slur on Caitlyn Jenner and Planned Parenthood in kind, calling him a cocaine addict, Mr. Woods sued. Mr. Doe's suggestion that Mr. Woods was on drugs was not meant to be taken literally, just as Mr. Woods' "put down your crack pipe" and other mocking language was not serious. This is his simple defense.

Twitter is a wide open forum where wisecracks are the norm. It exists not only for the rich and powerful to lambast others, but for all users to express themselves, often colorfully, without fear of being dragged into expensive, stressful litigation. It is frightening to be sued for $10 million by Mr. Woods, but Mr. Doe is fighting back.

Today the Court rejected our request to dismiss the case. We strongly disagree with the denial of the motion, and agree with the Court's tentative ruling that granted the motion. We look forward to presenting the issues to the Court of appeal. Mr. Doe is resolved to fight this case for as many months or years as it takes.
The statement also notes that Abe List filed some sort of "formal complaint" with Twitter, though the details there are not entirely clear. Either way, what should have been a simple case with a simple dismissal has now gotten a lot more complicated. It may be tempting to mock the judge, but be careful what you say, because apparently he believes that obvious hyperbole must be interpreted as fact if you put the statement in front of someone's name.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2016 @ 10:56am

    This just in -

    Cocaine addicted defending judge says he can't define hyperbole and sarcasm, but he'll know it when he sees it... completely misses the boat in recent Twitter case. Continues to adjudicate law poorly since his head appears to be stuck up his derrier.

    /s (in case he can't tell)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Feb 11th, 2016 @ 10:59am

    I look forward to Mr. Woods winning, simply because while the bad law exists he'd going to get his own ass sued off.
    While trying to undo this courts bizarre finding the door will be open for lots of people to sue Mr Woods for lots of money. Most of his statements seem to be made with malice, so he can reap what his thin skin helped create.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Pronounce (profile), Feb 11th, 2016 @ 11:10am

    Another Sign of the Times

    The rich and powerful can do whatever they please, and the officials of the court system back them.

    Who's country do we live in?

    Obviously the US population is the chattel of the 1% who feed off their productivity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Pixelation, Feb 11th, 2016 @ 11:12am

    What I wanna know...

    Does the Pope shit in the Woods?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2016 @ 11:23am

    Can others sue Woods?

    So if Woods wins, that the comments were defamation, does that mean that all the people he insulted could now each sue him for $10 mil per event/person?

    It seems like someone as mouthy as Woods would not want anything close to that being possible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Feb 11th, 2016 @ 11:36am

    Re: Can others sue Woods?

    That is the best part, its a live action example of what happens when you demand someone fix something for you and then discover it applies to you as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anomynuos Crowad, Feb 11th, 2016 @ 11:44am

    Clueless idiot Prof. Finegan has apparently never visited this thing we call "The Internet".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2016 @ 11:52am

    Wait...

    James Woods responded to others with "Put down your crack pipe" which is of the same accusational quality of "cocaine addict".

    Both statements imply that the other is doing illegal narcotics so how is there not a counter suit here?

    Maybe that guy needs to sue Mr "cocaine addict James Woods" and get some for himself?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2016 @ 1:19pm

    Ooooo a piece of candy!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Feb 11th, 2016 @ 1:41pm

    Re: Wait...

    When the first papers came out they didn't think they had a chance... with the new ruling however one expects to see a multitude of cases file.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    radarmonkey (profile), Feb 11th, 2016 @ 2:03pm

    So if someone uses the prenomial characterization (i.e., "Idiot") followed by a proper noun (i.e., "LA Superior Court judge Mel Recana"), would that be a linguistic structure widely used to characterize people with shorthand factual information?

    Asking for a friend.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2016 @ 2:25pm

    This guy is somebody? No wonder Ed Snowden lives in Russia.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2016 @ 3:45pm

    the ridiculous thing is the fucking plum of a judge sitting on the case! is there actually one in the USA who can read and interpret the law how it was meant to when made?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Eldakka (profile), Feb 11th, 2016 @ 3:51pm

    Maybe someone should check the judges bank account, assets, and/or who they have had lunch with recently?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Ken Ashe, Feb 11th, 2016 @ 3:58pm

    Wow

    Twitter is full of angry people. This can cause a lot of lawsuits

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2016 @ 4:10pm

    Re: What I wanna know...

    Not since Woods turned twelve and he became 'too old to talk to'

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Zonker, Feb 11th, 2016 @ 4:49pm

    As contended by plaintiff: Applying the totality of circumstances test, and examining the plain language of the Tweet, it is clear that any reader of the AL False Statement could and indeed must view it as a statement of fact.
    So according to this court we *must* assume that someone is a crack addict because an anonymous person said something to the effect? Here we thought it was hyperbole, but no it *must* be true!

    Does that mean his next potential employer *must* see those tweets about him as true and can refuse to hire him on those grounds? That's how the judges decision reads to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Whatever (profile), Feb 11th, 2016 @ 5:44pm

    To me, the problem is simple: Calling someone an idiot is expressing an opinion. Saying they do drugs (and continue to do drugs) crosses a line from opinion to a statement of "fact" that others could misunderstand or take as the truth.

    Put another way, if a newspaper wrote "James Woods was sniffing drugs again last night while posting on twitter", they would be quickly printing a retraction and their lawyers doing their best to avoid getting sued into next week.

    Why should twitter or any other digital publishing medium have a different standard for such comments? Because the interwebs?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Atkray (profile), Feb 11th, 2016 @ 5:51pm

    Headline should read,

    Judge declares "I read it on the internet so it must be true".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    That One Guy (profile), Feb 11th, 2016 @ 10:57pm

    Re: Can others sue Woods?

    Oh not at all. You see he's rich, which means all of his statements are clearly just opinion and not to be taken serious. People saying mean things about him though, unless they too are rich, are clearly all statements of fact, and can absolutely be treated as such.

    /poe

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    That One Guy (profile), Feb 11th, 2016 @ 11:11pm

    Winning the battle but losing the war

    What makes this defamatory:

    "@RealJamesWoods @benshapiro cocaine addict James Woods still sniffing and spouting."

    And this not defamatory:

    @stevmg Well, put down your crack pipe, and retread my timelines. You'll find plenty there.

    Both are implying that the other is using drugs, the only difference is the wording.

    When Woods calls someone a 'rat', is that a statement of fact that the other person is indeed a rodent? When he calls someone 'scum', is that a statement of fact as well?

    The funny thing is, as TAG has pointed out several times, if Woods 'wins' here given his past posting history he's opening himself up to a world of trouble as he has a history of replying abrasively to anyone critical of him(as this lawsuit demonstrates abundantly), and while he got away with it before as simple hyperbole and 'statements of opinion' a 'win' here could change that.

    Now when he tells people to 'put down the crack pipe' he's not just saying that their thinking is messed up, he's making a statement of fact that they are a drug user, and that opens him up to claims of defamation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    Wyrm (profile), Feb 11th, 2016 @ 11:40pm

    Re:

    More like: I look forward to Mr. Woods winning, simply because it would give standing to all the people he similarly insulted to sue him for millions in turn.

    Seriously, I can't understand that kind of thin-skinned troll. He has no problem insulting and "making statements of fact" that he expects everyone else to take as hyperbole, but can't tolerate that one guy does the same to him. Live by the lawsuit, die by the lawsuit?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    That One Guy (profile), Feb 11th, 2016 @ 11:57pm

    Re: Re:

    The term you're looking for is hypocrite, not troll. He sees nothing wrong with insulting others, claiming that it's simply his 'opinion', but when someone expresses their 'opinion' regarding him suddenly it's grounds for a lawsuit as it's a serious offense.

    'I should be able to do/say X but you aren't allowed to' is standard hypocrite behavior.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 12th, 2016 @ 5:57am

    Re: Winning the battle but losing the war

    What we have here is Whatever's typical dual standards.

    Woe betide the fucker who dares to film a policeman, but if the same policeman shoots a baby, it's perfectly acceptable because getting a warrant or exercising restraint is too, too hard for the poor men in blue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, Feb 12th, 2016 @ 6:41am

    Re: Re: Re:

    The trouble with the thin-skinned troll types is that they genuinely see themselves as the good guys and their opponents as the bad guys. Therefore, since they are "good," everything they do is "good," especially when attacking or counter-attacking their enemies (real or imaginary).

    Anyone who fails to accept their narrative as gospel can look forward to being absolutely excoriated, often in the most amusing, self-contradictory ways.

    Point and laugh, then move on.

    As TAC correctly pointed out, if Woods wins he will quickly find out that the rules do indeed apply to him. The opportunities for schadenfreude are legion. Bring it, Mr. Woods.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    Bergman (profile), Feb 12th, 2016 @ 10:48am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Good people are good because they do good things and act good -- everyone is the hero of their own personal narrative after all, and simply proclaiming yourself good while doing evil doesn't make you good.

    It just makes you a liar.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Feb 13th, 2016 @ 12:39pm

    Re: Winning the battle but losing the war

    He will be done in by his own cunning linguist?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 16th, 2016 @ 6:12pm

    Is James Woods a candy addict?

    I'm still very upset over the way he treated Peter Griffin.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 16th, 2016 @ 6:12pm

    Is James Woods a candy addict?

    I'm still very upset over the way he treated Peter Griffin.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2016 @ 3:31am

    Re: Headline should read,

    That judge is one fart smeller. Or have they lost their senses?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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