Devin Nunes, Johnny Depp lawsuits seen as threats to free speech and press
Congressman Devin Nunes of California was angered by a story in his hometown newspaper detailing a claim that investors in a winery he partly owns partied with cocaine and prostitutes. So the Republican decided to sue — in rural Virginia.
Nunes bypassed the courthouse less than two miles from one of his offices and 10 blocks from the Fresno Bee to file the $150 million defamation claim against its owner 2,600 miles away. He also chose the Old Dominion to file two other recent defamation suits, one naming San Francisco-based Twitter and an anonymous user who has mocked him in the voice of an imaginary cow.
Likewise, actor Johnny Depp sued his ex-wife Amber Heard for $50 million in a Northern Virginia courthouse, claiming he was defamed in an op-ed in The Washington Post in which she called for support for domestic violence victims like herself. Both Depp and Heard live in Hollywood. Heard, who came to at least one hearing in the case, said in court filings that she had never previously set foot in the state.
The suits are part of a string of splashy defamation claims by politicians and the A-list star seeking nearly $1 billion in damages in Virginia courts this year, even though many of the cases have only loose connections to the state.
The plaintiffs argue their names have been smeared and the venues are appropriate, but several of the defendants — including Twitter and Heard — say the filing location is aimed at exploiting the state’s weak protections for defamation defendants. Legal experts say Virginia law allows those with deep pockets to bulldoze targets with frivolous, protracted and expensive litigation they couldn’t pursue in many other states.
The true goals of the suits, the defendants argue, are to stifle critics, blunt aggressive journalism and settle scores. Some deride the legal maneuvers as “libel tourism” and see a growing trend not just in Virginia but in other states that similarly lack safeguards. The suits have prompted Virginia lawmakers to look at changing the law…….read more
Source: Washington Post