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Can an attorney commit defamation/false light by knowingly making a false comment against the opposing party in a filing?

Tempe, AZ |

If an attorney knowingly makes a written false statement about an opposing Pro Se party within a Motion/Response (or any Court filing) that is also materially unrelated to the litigation itself, and makes the statement simply as a means of negatively portraying the Pro Se party to the judge, can the attorney be sued by the opposing Pro Se party for either false light or defamation? Or, do court filings not count as published material when it comes to false light/defamation claims?

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Attorney answers 4

Best Answer
Posted

You should speak with an Arizona attorney who litigates defamation and false light invasion of privacy claims. This area of law is complex and only a few attorneys practice it regularly. (I'm one of them). A good answer to your questions would require more than a few paragraphs.

Arizona recognizes an absolute judicial privilege. This privilege applies to attorneys and parties involved in litigation. For the judicial privilege to apply, the recipient of the communications must have a direct interest in the litigation or possess evidentiary information directly relevant to it.

The cases I list below explain what the judicial privilege is and how it works in Arizona. You should be able to find and read them if you search for them using Google Scholar.

Hall v. Smith, 214 Ariz. 309 (App. 2007)
Ashton-Blair v. Merrill, 187 Ariz. 315 (App. 1996)

Asker

Posted

Thank you very much, I will certainly review these cases right now! Essentially, the opposing attorney has made an offensive statement within a response to a routine motion, alleging that I have been involved in "numerous lawsuits," when in fact, I've only been in involved in one previous lawsuit in my life. Opposing counsel knows this but is attempting to portray me negatively to the judge as if I'm an illegitimate/vexatious litigant-type (which I'm not). My understanding, though, is that while the attorney's comment is defaming in nature and has been published to the judge in a court filing, I can't file a libel claim against the attorney due to the absolute judicial privilege.

Edward C. Hopkins Jr.

Edward C. Hopkins Jr.

Posted

The judicial privilege will likely shield the attorney against defamation claims in this case. But if you can prove he or she knew he or she was lying to the trial court when he or she signed and filed at least one document containing at least one lie, then his or her actions could be sanctionable under Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 11(a).

Asker

Posted

Thanks for your help, I appreciate it.

Posted

The latter is correct.

The answer does not create an attorney-client relationship and is for informational purposes only.

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Posted

A statement by an attorney in a complaint does not amount to a libelous or defamatory statement. It is their opinion of what they can prove.

The information provided in this answer does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you are interested in his legal services, feel free to call Chris at (303) 409-7635 at his law office in the Denver Tech Center. All initial consultations are free of charge.

Posted

Regardless of whether there is an actionable libel suit, any lawyer who knowingly makes false statements, whether it is in writing or verbally, has committed an ethical violation.

The key word is "knowingly"

Take a look at the Rules of Professional Conduct which govern us lawyers.

ER 4.1 requires a lawyer to be truthful in statements to others.
ER 3.3 prohibits a lawyer from making a false statement of law or fact to a tribunal (court)

But keep in mind, that lawyers make statements all of the time that the other party disagrees with. If a lawyer has a reasonable basis for believing something is true, then it is not a situation where the lawyer is knowingly making a false statement. So you will want to ask yourself if the statements are something you really disagree with, or if they are indeed lies and patently false.

Here is a link to the rules I discussed above.

NONE OF THE INFORMATION PROVIDED HERE IS MEANT AS, NOR INTENDED AS LEGAL ADVICE. THE LAW IS CONSTANTLY CHANGING AND INFORMATION DISCUSSED IN THIS BLOG CAN BECOME OUT-DATED WITH THE PASSAGE OF TIME. IF YOU HAVE A LEGAL ISSUE AND NEED LEGAL ADVICE, CALL 623-936-1901 FOR A CONFIDENTIAL LEGAL CONSULTATION WITH AN ATTORNEY.

Asker

Posted

Thanks for the response, this is really great information to know. In fact, I wish I'd know that before I filed my Reply to Defendants' Response (of which includes the lie by Defendants' Counsel). Essentially, the opposing attorney has made an offensive statement within a response to a routine motion I filed, alleging that I have been involved in "numerous lawsuits," when in fact, I've only been in involved in one previous lawsuit in my life. Opposing counsel knew his statement was untrue, this but is attempting to portray me negatively to the judge as if I'm an illegitimate/vexatious litigant-type (which I'm not). Hopefully the judge will know the rules of professional conduct as well as you do since I failed to point that rule out.

Paul E Knost

Paul E Knost

Posted

There is a difference between statements that are lies and statements that are a lawyer's opinion and which you find to be offensive. A lawyer is allowed to state an opinion as long as there is some basis for it. You might not agree with his basis. You might find it offensive. But that doesn't NECESSARILY lead to an ethical violation or slander or libel. I hope the information was useful to you. But I think that you would do well by consulting with a few lawyers about possibly representing you. Even a highly seasoned lawyer will have a lawyer represent him/her if they are a party to a law suit. It is simply better that way. Good luck!

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