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Can I sue a lawyer for libel?

Taos, NM |

I'm involved in a child custody case. I have temporary sole custody of my baby. I agreed to a psychological evaluation as part of the "time sharing" negotiations with the father of my child. I was told it was typical in sole custody cases. The father's attorney wrote a letter to the psychologist with a list of false accusation about my character. She accused me of drug use, of having a "mental condition," of having a pattern of falsely accusing men of abuse, of being an "unfit" mother, and of having a strange relationship with younger men. She stated all of these things factually...which they are not. I have a clean criminal record. I am a mother of twenty years. I have a public education license and I'm a teacher. I am greatly troubled by this lawyer's harrassment.

I actually have proof that addresses each of this lawyer's accusations.

Attorney Answers 3

Posted

"Can" you sue? There is an old saying, "you can sue a ham sandwich." The real question is whether you would have much chance of winning a lawsuit for libel against the father's attorney. There are few absolutes in life, but I would say you have almost no hope of winning such a suit.
Even on a level playing field, you would not convince a jury that, most likely, the lawyer knew the letter to the psychologist was false or acted with actual malice. In all likelihood the lawyer did not invent these accusations out of thin air and has no malice against you apart from aggressively representing the father. She based her letter on what her client claimed to be true.
The law of libel, slander and defamation is NOT a level playing field. Such suits are discouraged by the law. "If the alleged defamatory statement is made to achieve the objects of the litigation, the absolute privilege applies even though the statement is made outside the courtroom and no function of the court or its officers is involved." Romero v. Prince, 85 N.M. 474, 477, 513 P.2d 717, 720 (Ct. App. 1973); Penny v. Sherman, 101 N.M. 517, 520, 684 P.2d 1182, 1185 (Ct. App. 1984) (noting that statements made in relation to “an ongoing or contemplated judicial proceeding” could receive absolute privilege protection); but see Gregory Rockhouse Ranch, L.L.C. v. Glenn’s Water Well Serv., Inc., 2008-NMCA-101, ¶ 19, 191 P.3d 548, 554 (denying absolute privilege defense as to particular communications because they were made at a time well before litigation was seriously contemplated). Because you're "involved in a child custody case" and the letter was made in relation to that case to achieve a better custody decision, the absolute privilege will result in the new judge in the defamation suit summarily throwing out your lawsuit.
Rather than waste precious time and money in an ill fated lawsuit against the lawyer, you need to convince the psychologist that these accusations - originating as they must from the father - are not true. Even as a fit mother, as you will no doubt be found, the court will still favor an arrangement where the father has reasonable visitation rights - after all, it is "his" baby too.

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Stephen D Aarons

Stephen D Aarons

Posted

In Helena v. Uribe, a March 2011 decision, the NM Court of Appeals ruled that attorney statements to the press are not protected by the absolute judicial privilege because the press "had no relationship or interest" in the court case. http://www.nmcompcomm.us/nmcases/nmca/slips/CA29,567.pdf Unfortunately, this case will not help as the psychologist in your case does have a relationship with the custody case.

Asker

Posted

I have done all of the psychological evaluations and I have a clean criminal record. I was assulted by a man who plead guilty--the father's attorney used that against me--saying I lied about it. It was malicious. She tried to bias the psychologist's research and even the psychologist found the letter extremely distasteful and malicious.

Asker

Posted

She knew she was pulling at straws because of how good and stable of a record I have. My child's father doesn't even want to continue with this harrassment. He wrote me a letter saying I'm a good mom and thanked me. His attorney is manipulating the situation to keep a good paying client. It's wrong to harrass a stable, law-abiding citizen. I'm a peaceful person and this attorney has caused damage to me and to my children.

Asker

Posted

This attorney has a reputation of being "not too good," and I trust that what she is doing is illegal.

Asker

Posted

She's trying to make a case where there's not one. I even offered the father joint custody! His lawyer instead got a "stipulated interm order." The father is in drug court and has a history of felony heroin posession. She can try to tarnish my reputation--but she won't succeed. This is an excellent case of libel and I will continue to search for advise.

Stephen D Aarons

Stephen D Aarons

Posted

I understand how you feel, but that does not change the law of absolute privilege. You think you have "an excellent case of libel." I strongly disagree, and so will every reputable lawyer who is not out for an easy paycheck at your expense.

Stephen D Aarons

Stephen D Aarons

Posted

I am glad, by the way, that the psychologist did not buy the accusations. Since you have already offered joint legal custody with reasonable visitation, which is the most any court woud award this struggling father, you might want to have someone suggest to him that his lawyer is taking him to the cleaners. I don't approve of the tactics she is using, but they are legal and absolutely privileged.

Posted

Atttorney Arons gave an excellent answer. Additionally, what occurs in court does have some privilege. Speak with your lawyer. Good luck.

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Asker

Posted

It didn't happen in court. She wrote a letter to a psychologist who was supppose to evaluate me for any emotional or psychological illness to determine my fitness as a parent. I passed all tests with flying colors. She also accuses me of lying in a case where the man plead guilty to "raping, kidnapping, and assulting" me ten years ago. He is currently serving fifteen years for that.

Jeffrey Mark Adams

Jeffrey Mark Adams

Posted

Sorry about your situation. There still may be a quasi-privilege. Suggest you contact the bar association, or ask someone you trust and respect, for a recommendation. Depending on your resources you may qualify for legal aid. Hope this helps.

Posted

It would be an uphill battle.

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Asker

Posted

Because I have never had to experience the wrath of an attorney, I wasn't aware that it was legal to harrass me for no good reason other than to attempt to build a case. I've never had such terrible things said about me--that are completely untrue. Is it okay that she said I lied about being assulted by a man who plead guilty to doing it? Hmmm. .

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