The recent ruling by retired Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Burt Griffin is a victory for any defendant who has been victimized by the plaintiffs’ bar’s use of the media to inappropriately influence the course of active litigation. Despite howls from plaintiffs’ attorneys about how this ruling subverts First Amendment rights and free speech, this practice is exceedingly common and has nothing to do with something as noble as the “public’s right to know.” It’s all about influencing the outcome of a potential trial or settlement negotiations, which of course is about money, which is primarily what the plaintiffs’ bar is after.
Not unlike filing a defamatory and frivolous lawsuit in the first place, plaintiffs’ attorneys commonly take the extra step to seed with media any number of alleged misdeeds on the part of a defendant and thereby generate speculative media coverage that discusses the lawsuit’s allegations as if they are facts. The defendant has limited options when negative media coverage appears, and can quickly die in the court of public opinion, guilty or not. Defense attorneys are loathe to allowing their client to actively refute specific charges in the media in advance of a trial. Even if they do, the reputational damage client is probably already done, particularly when the allegations are as troubling as they were in the case in question.
Credit Bill Edwards, the defendant’s attorney, for recognizing this illegal behavior and acting on it. He may have lost the case, but Griffin’s decision to grant the motion for sanctions is a victory for defense attorneys and any client who has been targeted by frivolous litigation by a plaintiffs’ attorney who added insult to injury by using the media to destroy their reputation or taint a jury before they’ve even had a chance to defend themselves in court.