After a jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiffs in a false claims action, plaintiff’s lawyers issued a 3 ½ page “celebratory press release” headlined, “JM Eagle faces billions in damages after jury finds JM liable for making and selling faulty water system pipes.” J-M filed a libel suit against the law firm, Phillip & Cohen, arguing that the press release improperly characterized what happened in the trial. The California appellate court extended “judicial statement” protection to the law firm’s press release, finding:
In sum, Phillips & Cohen may be guilty of self-promotion and puffery; but its description of the evidence at trial and the jury’s special verdict in the November 15, 2013 press release falls comfortably within the permissible degree of flexibility and literary license afforded communications to the media concerning judicial proceedings. The substance of its report was accurate. The release was absolutely privileged under Civil Code section 47, subdivision (d).
This decision is important for news organization covering judicial proceedings. If lawyers communicating with media are protected from libel claims, by extension, news reports of those statements should be protected by the fair report privilege. This application of those privileges beyond the confines of the court record are significant.To read the opinion, click here: Press Release Privilege