A Chicago attorney acquitted of sexual assault by a Madison County jury in 2008 can move forward with his defamation lawsuit against a legal blog, but must take a relatively narrow path in doing so.
In his Dec. 4 ruling, U.S. District Judge John J. Tharp Jr. laid out some limitations for local lawyer Meanith Huon to follow to proceed with his 2011 lawsuit over articles published on Breaking Media’s legal blog, Above The Law (ATL), and Gawker Media’s female focused blog, Jezebel.
First, Tharp entirely dismissed the Gawker defendants from Huon’s action and tossed six of the nine counts against the ATL defendants.
He then went on to further limit Huon’s claims by saying while he could proceed with his defamation, false light and emotional distress claims against the ATL defendants, he could only do so in respect to two specific aspects of the May 2010 ATL article.
On July 1, 2008, Huon, who was a 38-year-old attorney at Johnson & Bell at the time, was charged in Madison County with two counts of criminal sexual assault, two counts of criminal sexual abuse and one count of unlawful restraint.
Madison County prosecutors accused him of sexually assaulting a woman, who according to Tharp’s ruling, testified at trial that she met Huon after responding to a Craiglist ad seeking promotional models and was under the impression he was a supervisor for a company that set up alcohol promotions at local bars.
The next year, the opinion states, he was charged with cyberstalking and witness harassment over claims involving the same woman.
A Madison County jury in May 2010 acquitted Huon on the original charges and his 2009 charges were dismissed in 2011, according to Tharp’s ruling that notes the charges and trial received attention and coverage from the local media, as well as legal-focused sources.
On July 3, 2008, Tharp said AboveTheLaw.com published a post that included a link to another publication's story on his arrest and a one-line statement that read “Lawyer of the Day: Meanith Huon.” About a year later, LawyerGossip.com, a blog that now appears to be defunct, posted a story about both Huon’s 2008 and 2009 charges.
And then on May 6, 2010, Tharp’s ruling notes ATL published an article titled “Rape Potpourri” that discussed Huon’s criminal trial and rape allegations made against former New York Giants player Lawrence Taylor.
The portion of 2010 ATL article on Huon supposedly linked and quoted posts and stories from other publications, including the Lawyer Gossip post,.
Following its initial publication, the ATL article generated more than 100 reader comments or replies and was at some point updated to indicate Huon had been acquitted of the charges, according to Tharp’s opinion.
Huon on May 6, 2010 sued the ATL defendants, as well as the unknown readers who posted comments, for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and false light invasion of privacy.
Like the charges brought against him, Tharp noted the filing of Huon’s lawsuit received some publicity, including a 2011 article on Jezebel.com that linked to the ATL article and garnered about 80 reader comments.
Huon amended his complaint in July 2011 to add new allegations and defendants stemming from the Jezebel post. Both groups of defendants moved to dismiss the second amended complaint, which was granted based on jurisdictional deficiencies.
After his third amended complaint was dismissed, he submitted the current complaint in 2012. In it, Huon, who now works for Huon Law Group, asks for an award of compensatory damages and millions in punitive damages.
In dismissing the Gawker defendants entirely from the suit and most of the claims against the ATL defendants, Tharp said the statements Huon claims are defamatory were protected by the fair report privilege, were capable of innocent construction, did not contain verifiable facts and/or were not specifically about him.