Lawsuits are from Mars

I should have blogged this earlier, but a story appeared recently in a San Francisco legal periodical. Brenda Sandburg had the story, published in the Recorder and on Law.com

Irish blogger Gavin Sheridan got plenty of free legal advice after a San Francisco lawyer objected to one of his postings.

Sheridan reprinted a friend’s blog mocking the educational background and
many marriages of John Gray, author of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.” The item got around the Internet and caught Gray’s eye, or at least his lawyer’s.

Last month David Given, of San Francisco’s Phillips, Erlewine & Given, sent Sheridan a letter demanding that he retract libelous statements made about Gray in his Nov. 17 post on http://gavinsblog.com.

“The relationship guru who constantly promotes himself as ‘Dr. John Gray’
and lists a ‘Ph.D.’ has only one accredited degree, a high school diploma,”
the entry says. “Neither his BA nor his MA is from an accredited institution of higher education.”

Not true, Given said. The author received a legally valid Ph.D. from Columbia Pacific University in 1982, when it was a state-approved university. Marin County Superior Court ordered the Novato school to cease operations four years ago. Given also pointed out that Gray obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Maharishi European Research University in Switzerland.

Given did not return calls seeking comment.

“Never having received such an e-mail before, I decided to ask the blogging
community — ‘blogosphere’ — the totality of all people who self-publish their journals online, what I should do,” Sheridan said in an e-mail message. “They responded — in droves.”

Sheridan said several U.S. lawyers e-mailed their advice, and a lawyer in San Francisco, whom Sheridan declined to identify, helped him draft a response at no charge.

“I live in Ireland, and I publish a noncommercial, passive Web site that is hosted on servers located in the United Kingdom,” Sheridan wrote in a March 28 letter to Given. “A California state court would have no personal jurisdiction over me, under well-established law.” He cited the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals’ 1997 ruling in Cybersell v. Cybersell, 130 F.3d 414, 419.

“As a public figure, Gray could not prevail in a suit unless he showed that I acted with ‘actual malice,'” Sheridan continued. “You complain of only five words of which I was the original author — ‘John Gray is a fraud’ — which are ‘classic rhetorical hyperbole which cannot reasonably be interpreted as stating actual facts.'”