Courtney Love Found Not Liable in Landmark Twitter Defamation Case
Hole singer didn't make it back to court in time to hear her own verdict
Courtney Love was found not liable of defaming her former lawyer, Rhonda Holmes, on Friday (January 24). Though the jury wasn’t expected to deliver a verdict until next week, they opted to skip their afternoon break today and took only a few hours to come to a decision. Many press outlets left as the court day dwindled. The decision was read past the normal closing time of 4:30 p.m., partly because the defendant had stepped out as well.
Ultimately Judge Michael Johnson decided that law trumps Love, and called for the decision with or without her presence. She was not there when the judgement came down, although the reporters had returned. The verdict is the culmination of a landmark “Twibel” lawsuit about Twitter and defamation. Proceedings lasted for seven days in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom, after having been filed in May of 2011, almost a year after the initial offending Tweet.
SPIN spoke to Love when she arrived. “I feel really good,” she said. She was wearing a cream-colored cardigan and navy dress with white accents, her hair down, with pearls. “I am relieved. I am really happy to have had good counsel for the first time in 24 years.” She said she was shaking before the verdict was announced.
Her attorney John Lawrence added, “I don’t think it’s a case that will change the law, but it is a very good result for Courtney.” For his part, Holmes’ lawyer Mitch Langberg said, “I am disappointed. But I am happy that the jury did believe the statements about Rhonda were false. At the end of the day her biggest asset is her reputation.”
While the 12-person jury agreed that Love’s public statement was false and likely injurious to Holmes, they were not convinced that Love didn’t believe it to be true. They were asked: “Did Rhonda Holmes prove by clear and convincing evidence that Courtney Love knew it was false or doubted the truth of it?” And the answer was “No.” Regarding a statement she made to reporter Alan Cross about an unnamed attorney (Holmes), the jury decided that Cross had no reason to know Holmes was indeed the subject thereof.
During the six days of testimony in which Love took the stand twice, the rock star was both bold and emotional. At one point, admittedly “at my most paranoid,” she even said that Holmes’ attorney Barry Langberg could be part of what may be a large conspiracy leveled against her. And then she told him not to take that personally. However when Langberg asked her if she really believed he was a conspirator, she reined herself in and said, “No.”
Of course, it was exactly that sort of accusation that landed Love in court. In June of 2010 she publicly accused her former legal rep of having been “bought off,” writing, “They got to her,” in a series of tweets regarding an investigation into the management of the Kurt Cobain estate.
Love’s initial defense was, with credit to precedent-setter Childish Gambino, “because the Internet.” They argued hyperbole and sensational language are par for the course in social media, and that claims made via Twitter should not be held to the same standard as information transmitted by news organizations. But that was an early hearing, before the case went to trial.
Throughout this phase of the finally resolved (we hope) drama, Love maintained that the tweet was intended to be a private message and that she deleted the post several minutes after realizing it was public. “I’m not a forensic analyst, although by now I could be,” she said on day one. On day two, she cried at the mention of her daughter Frances Bean Cobain. On day three, we saw revealing emails. Day four brought sobs over the mistreated legacy of Kurt Cobain. Day five: more tears for Frances.
And on day seven, Love rested. It is worth noting that she did not tweet during the trial.