A California jury on Friday cleared singer-actress Courtney Love of libeling her former lawyer on Twitter in a defamation case believed to be the first to reach trial in the United States over comments published on the social media network.
The verdict was returned by the 12-member Los Angeles County Superior Court jury after about four hours of deliberations, capping a nearly two-week trial, said plaintiff’s lawyer Mitchell Langberg.
A lawsuit brought against Love in May 2011 claimed she had committed libel by falsely suggesting in a 2010 tweet that an attorney who had represented her in planned litigation against the estate of her late husband, Kurt Cobain, had been bribed to quit that case.
The tweet at issue claimed that the plaintiff, Rhonda Holmes, had been “bought off.” Holmes sought US$8 million in compensatory damages in her libel claim.
The jury unanimously found that Love published the tweet in question, that there was clear and convincing evidence that it was false, and ruled 11-1 that the remark tended to be damaging to the plaintiff’s reputation, Langberg said.
But the panel also found 9-3 that Holmes’ lawyers had failed to prove that Love knew the statement was false or doubted its truth at the time, and therefore could not be held liable for defamation, according to Langberg.
Love had testified that she had intended for the message in question to be a private, one-on-one reply to an online query and tweeted the comment publicly by mistake. When she realised what she had done, she immediately deleted it.
The one-time Oscar nominee for her role in “The People vs. Larry Flynt” was not present in court when the verdict was returned, but she spoke to reporters afterward.
“I was really happy for the firm and for me and for everybody that the case could have affected if it had been adverse,” she told the local NBC television affiliate outside the courthouse. Reminded that Holmes had sought US$8 million in damages, she laughed and said, “If you could find it. It’s not in my purse.”
The jury also cleared Love of defamation for comments she made to a Canadian broadcaster.
Langberg said that even though Holmes failed to win damages, “The case was about vindication of her reputation.”
“What she’s really happy about is when the jury found that she didn’t get bought off, that she didn’t abandon her client for money,” he told Reuters.
The case has been widely cited as the first US lawsuit seeking libel damages for remarks published on Twitter, and Langberg said it was “the first one I know about in the United States.”
“It certainly is the first high-profile case,” he added.