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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  1. 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).


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