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.

Filed Under: anne king, civil liberties, civil rights, corey king, criminal defamation, free speech, georgia, ralph todd, trey burgamy


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 4:36am

    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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 9:18am

      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.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 9:38am

        Re: Re:

        In the US truth is a complete defense to all claims of defamation

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 12:02pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Sounds like after the fact, Mrs. King could also have defended against the suit on the fact that both her and her friends' statements were statements of fact.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 12:08pm

            Re: Re: Re: 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.

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

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 30 Oct 2019 @ 11:48am

      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).

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 12:08pm

        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.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 12:32pm

          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.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 1:02pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Oh

            I think it was constitutional when it was passed and I have never heard of it being used in unconstitutional way (or ever in my lifetime) so it's unlikely to be challenged and overturned.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 3:19pm

      Re:

      The article doesn't say that they have all been found unconstitutional, in fact it says some still live on. It does correctly state that they are unconstitutional.

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

  • icon
    JdL (profile), 30 Oct 2019 @ 6:26am

    Excellent

    Any day that overreach by government thugs is acknowledged is a good day. Now if only that POS ex-husband had to pull the money out of his own pocket!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 6:28am

    to me, the interesting other point is what happened to the idiot judge who obviously doesn't know his backside from his elbow? if nothing has or is going to happen to him, officially, he is free to harass someone else due to his complete incompetence. that is totally unacceptable!!

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

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 30 Oct 2019 @ 7:23am

      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.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 9:21am

        Re: Re:

        "NO ONE has immunity to criminal charges"

        There was that judge who was convicted and serving time for his abuse of position over juvenile court. I forgot how much he made per child he sent to that torture camp place.

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

  • identicon
    Andy, 30 Oct 2019 @ 8:23am

    And both cops and the "judge" were fired?

    or

    The cops and judge were liable for the $100K?

    or

    The taxpayer gets shafted for $100K, while 3 idiots retained their well paid jobs despite being the cause of the fine...

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

  • icon
    NOYFUB (profile), 30 Oct 2019 @ 8:34am

    Douche prosecuter

    You missed the part about the douche bag prosecutors opening statement. The part where he said even though what she did was not illegal it should be.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 9:14am

    Potential Class Action by Thin-Skinned Goobermentals

    "...government employees and officials have found them too useful to remove completely."

    Dude, that's like a totally multi-class level of criminal defamation.

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

  • icon
    Mononymous Tim (profile), 30 Oct 2019 @ 9:41am

    Most POSes think they can be POSes without being called a POS. Only a POS can understand that screwed up logic.

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

  • identicon
    bob, 30 Oct 2019 @ 2:37pm

    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?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 3:24pm

    Whether the criminal defamation law existed or not.... that's not defamation!

    Both are a problem, for sure.

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


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