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Don’t Believe Everything in the Press

March 19th, 2010

I had the privilege of teaching at this year’s Texas Trial Lawyers College in Huntsville, Texas. The Texas Trial Lawyers College is a one-week, intensive school for young lawyers who want to improve their trial skills. A student in one of our break-out sessions this week gave a rather uneven performance. The assignment was to deliver an opening statement in a sexual assault case. I was surprised, frankly, because the student is talented and the assignment should have been her opportunity to shine.

The following day I spoke with the student and she explained why she might have been distracted during her opening statement. Apparently the student just learned that she was one of a group of criminal defense lawyers in Lubbock, Texas, which a local television station erroneously reported on the internet had been charged with a misdemeanor crime. The television station — KCBD-TV in Lubbock — apparently confused the lawyers with the defendants they represented. KCBD apparently never bothered to check the local county records, which correctly listed the defendants and their charges, as well as the names of their attorneys.

KCBD removed the erroneous information from its website. Unfortunately, as the slandered Lubbock lawyers have quickly discovered, even deleted information can exist in perpetuity on the internet. A person who Googles the slandered lawyers’ names might mistakenly conclude that the lawyers were charged with various misdemeanor crimes.

Although a person accused of a crime is presumed innocent in a court of law, what about the court of public opinion? Where — to paraphrase former United States Labor Secretary Ray Donovan, who himself was acquitted of a crime — does a person go to get his reputation back, after he has been slandered on the internet? The answer in this case is not so easy. Arguably, the slandered lawyers have no adequate or available remedy. Here’s to hoping KCBD has access to some very good lawyers of its own. If the press sometimes wonder why people no longer believe everything in the press, the case of the slandered Lubbock lawyers is Exhibit “A.”

– Grant Scheiner

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