In our small town the mayor has tried to prevent discussion on a specific matter. When I as a council member called "point of order" to object to procedure at an earlier council meeting (according to our city ordinances), the mayor later published in the local newspaper that I was "out of order and disruptive". At the latest council meeting the mayor again tried to manipulate the meeting so that a certain matter could not be addressed. When I called "point of order" he first berated me, then refused to hear me, then adjourned the meeting when I attempted to address my point. (At no time has he stated in a meeting that I was "out of order". He has only stated that in print.) In the recent edition of the paper, he said in a letter to the editor, "I must apologize for the actions of one of our council members who again disrupted the meeting to the point that I had to adjourn the meeting. Some people have a hard time controlling their emotions." Could this be considered libelous? He also read a similar letter during a council meeting. Could that be slander? Would it be worth taking legal action against him or would it be a waste of time?
Defamation of character occurs when a person or entity publishes an untrue statement about another person to a third party, that causes the person a cognizable (that is, measurable and material) harm. 'Slander' is spoken defamation; 'libel' is written. Libel is generally taken a bit more seriously than slander, due to the lasting nature of the printed word.
Most of the time, a successful defamation case requires proving a cognizable harm in a financially measurable way. For example, an untrue statement that caused someone to lose out on a job or contract, if that loss could be proved, could give rise to a defamation claim. Some kinds of statements are 'defamatory per se.' These are presumed to cause harm, without a specific measured proof required. These include: impugning someone's integrity in their profession or business practices; accusing someone of a crime of moral turpitude; and (traditionally) impugning a woman's chastity. (That sexist rule is a relic from the common law that is probably no longer enforceable.) Even in cases of defamation per se, some kind of harm must still be proved for a court to award any real recovery.
A statement's being true is an absolute defense to any defamation claim; so is the statement's being mere personal opinion. (So we can't sue people for calling us names.) The burden of proof is on the plaintiff (the person doing the suing) to prove that the statement is false, and that it has caused harm.
In this case, it's not clear to me that you suffered any material harm as a result of the claim; it's also not clear that it isn't a matter of opinion - "disruptive" seems like a pretty subjective measure. Since the burden of proof would be on you to prove that the statement is false, you'd have to litigate the reasonableness of your conduct, and you'd be at a disadvantage: just about any witness who testified that you behaved unreasonably could sink you. A lawsuit would likely be a great waste of time and money, and would not be likely to demonstrate your greater reasonableness to anyone - quite the reverse.
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A lawsuit likely would be an exercise in futility, and defamation lawyers typically want 5k up front just to begin work
The comments are exaggerations, but are most likely not defamatory. The statements lean more toward subjectivity rather than objectivity, and do not constitute concrete statements of fact about your character or professional competence. The best way to respond, therefore, is to explain to the same publication(s) that featured the mayor's comments why those opinion statements about your temperament and conduct were not true; you might also offer names of witnesses who could be interviewed in corroboration of your perspective. You can certainly consult with a local civil litigator who handles defamation cases if you desire, but more likely than not, the mayor's statements as you described them could not be successfully sued upon. Best regards.
It never hurts to consult with an attorney but I agree with the prior commenters that you are not likely to find an attorney who is willing to take this case, at least not on a contingency basis. The statements are somewhat subjective and without significant damages, a law suit is probably impractical.
My Oregon colleague's response is so comprehensive and accurate that my advice is to read it twice. I also think you'd have a hard time getting any decent damages.
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