In news that many find shocking, George Zimmerman is suing primarily the lawyers for conduct they engaged in long AFTER the underlying litigation was concluded claiming that he has been the subject of victimization since 2012. As a defamation attorney in St. Pete, I hear many people shouting about the injustices of this filing and how Zimmerman should have no right to file for any type of monetary compensation this post asks you to consider purely those issues and allegations contained within Zimmerman’s lawsuit and consider the issued raised from a legal standing. The problem is, though, that even when doing that, things still get messy.
So firstly, before coming to any conclusion or offering any opinion whatsoever…let’s start with the basics….and the most important thing I assert here is that in order to be properly informed….READ THE ACTUAL LAWSUIT because it really contains some fascinating allegations. Importantly, the lawsuit does not primarily target the Martin’s family, but rather professionals who were involved in the case. Martin’s family clearly suffered, and it is important to recognize that..but the real question is should those professionals named be held to any higher standard?
The snip below is the actual lawsuit. Read the allegation because it asserts facts that frankly I think most people are totally unaware of.
But this defamation litigation is NOT about the underlying case. This litigation is about a campaign of statements made AFTER the suit and in particular a book published by an attorney involved in the case. The primary allegation in this suit is that the book contains a whole range of statements that the authors know to be materially false:
George Zimmerman Suing: $100 Million For Victimization
If you’re one of the few who are unfamiliar with the case, in 2012, Zimmerman was tried and acquitted in the shooting murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Since the acquittal, Zimmerman has made various headlines including the time he auctioned off the gun involved in the shooting, his arrest for aggravated assault and domestic violence with a weapon, and his charges for stalking an investigator who was working on a documentary about Trayvon Martin.
A history of actions and headlines like these certainly lends itself to – at the very best – a classification of Zimmerman as a character of very poor judgment. We might well wonder whether these actions post-Trayvon Martin were the result of “victimization”. Perhaps, one might think, his actions were driven by desperation as a result of continued persecution despite his acquittal. We can’t deny that Zimmerman has been judged by society despite his acquittal. There are a number of cases where someone has been acquitted of a crime and goes on to file a defamation suit as a result of their treatment following the verdict and in many of those cases, the defendant in the first case certainly has a right to retain the services of a defamation attorney…but there are a few things that I find interesting in the case of Zimmerman…
The Details of the Current Filing
Zimmerman’s lawsuit (filed in Polk County) is 36 pages long and among other things, it targets the Martin family attorney, Ben Crump and the publisher of his book, HarperCollins. Zimmerman claims that Crump’s book, “Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People,” perpetuates continued defamation of him. Additionally, the suit names the Martin family, a handful of former prosecutors, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the State of Florida as having a role in his victimization as a result of a conspiracy that involved an alleged fake witness who caused Zimmerman’s arrest and prosecution.
Zimmerman’s attorney, Larry Klayman, is a well-known conservative activist lawyer and claims that as a result of the incident and the actions of those named in the suit, his client “regularly faces death threats, gave up career aspirations, struggles to find work and suffers from PTSD”.
OPEN SEASON: LEGALIZED GENOCIDE OF COLORED PEOPLE
Defamation Or Not?
Setting aside Zimmerman’s conspiracy theory mentioned above – I have no concrete evidence to reference to give an opinion on this one way or another – does Zimmerman have a case when it comes to defamation? Does the fact that Zimmerman was acquitted impact this analysis?
The title of attorney Ben Crump’s book makes a rather strong statement and it can certainly be inferred from just that title and his role as the Martin family’s attorney that he’s referencing the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case. But does this constitute defamation?
Firstly, we need to establish that due to the prominence of the Trayvon Martin case, George Zimmerman is considered a public figure. This means that in order to prove defamation on the part of Crump, his attorney must prove that there was actual malice and negligence on Crump and HarperCollins part. We can likely agree that HarperCollins (in addition to being protected as a publishing platform) held no malice and so they almost certainly cannot be held liable for defamation, but what about Crump? This is a little more difficult.
Consider the following:
- Crump’s book does, in fact, mention George Zimmerman and the Trayvon Martin case.
- While the title of the book does not mention Zimmerman, it can be insinuated as a consequence of Crump’s role in the trial and his mention of it in the book that he is referring to Zimmerman in some way.
- Under Florida law, a statement is considered to be defamatory “if it prejudices the plaintiff in the eyes of a substantial and respectable minority of the community.” Jews for Jesus, Inc. v. Rapp, 997 So. 2d 1098, 1114 (Fla. 2008). It can be fairly assumed by the title of Crump’s book alone that Zimmerman will be subject to significant persecution at the hands of the African American population (among others).
- Crump’s book could be considered personal opinion, however, his role as an attorney and assumed expert on the case may lead the general public to believe that what he is saying or insinuating is true.
- By law, Zimmerman was found not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin which means that to insinuate that he played a role in the “legalized genocide of colored people” is defamatory, however…
- Crump could assert that the “genocide” he was talking about was figurative – the overlooking of black families in the legal system, perhaps – rather than literal.
- Zimmerman must be able to prove damages as the result of Crump’s book. Zimmerman claims that he has received multiple death threats since filing his lawsuit, however, he has also said that he has received death threats in the past as a result of the Trayvon Martin case. Additionally, if the action of filing the case was the causative factor of the death threats, this can be attributed to Zimmerman’s actions rather than those of Crump. We must also consider here that if the public opinion of Zimmerman was already low due to his prior behavior, his criminal history, and his role in shooting Martin (whether criminal or not) were additional damages even caused by Crump’s publishing of his book?
What Are Your Thoughts on George Zimmerman Suing?
What are your thoughts on this most recent headline involving Zimmerman? Leave a comment and let us know.
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