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  1. #1
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    Default Defamation by Church Attorney; Attorney Claims Due Diligence

    My question involves defamation in the state of: Maryland

    Briefly, church member (attorney) decides to conduct a background check on me claiming she is helping the church council decide to award me a contract (I am a member of the church as well). Church council has never done a personal background check on any vendor (lawn care, cleaning, etc.) besides typical company references.

    Church member attorney doesn't get authorization from church council to do the check. Church member attorney didn't get my personal information from anyone on the council or from me.

    At the meeting, Church member attorney announces, "This is off the record", then proceeds to blast out my information INCLUDING calling me a criminal (never been convicted of a crime) and obtaining information from a prior employer (employer disliked me) and college. Other council members are shocked and council president and parish priest are appalled. Parish priest announces he never authorized church member attorney to conduct check and wanted to know what the motives were for it to be done. He told the church member attorney she was not hired to conduct such a check on behalf of the church nor council. (I know the motive - strictly personal - but that's another story. If you want to know, ask me.)

    The council meeting was not in "executive session" or private/closed. So, somebody told me what happened. I filed a grievance with attorney grievance commission and I'm hoping for an investigation and reprimand.

    Parish priest and church council president says this is "slander" and I should pursue. They say, "Your reputation has been damaged. There's a chance you won't get the contract (starting a catering business/becoming exclusive caterer for their hall - I applied for the contract as an LLC.) because other council members may be swayed.

    Currently, the attorney is busy trying to "backtrack" saying she was conducting "due diligence" on behalf of the church. Parish priest and others say they would testify as witnesses to the contrary.

    1. I want to be able to pursue former employer for comments and papers released to church member attorney

    2. I want to pursue slander against church member attorney.

    Your comments please....

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Defamation by Church Attorney; Attorney Claims Due Diligence

    So you're stating that the attorney called you "a criminal" but you've "never been convicted" - so you've been charged with crimes? And those charges were dropped without condition? Dropped after a diversion program or deferral? Something else?

    And your ex-employer said bad things about you that the attorney related at the meeting? Bad opinions about you or false statements of fact? Because opinions aren't ordinarily actionable as defamation.

    Are there any other statements we should know about?

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Defamation by Church Attorney; Attorney Claims Due Diligence

    1. Crime was bogus.. former friend was actually harrassing a guy. She has a long history of playing the system..and when guy asked me to witness for him..she came after me. She charged me but she never showed up to court. I sent a letter to the State's Court Commissioners office to warn them that this girl has a history of using the system to "get back" at people. They said they would flag her if she did it again but that was all they could do. The information doesn't show on me..if you did a search but on her page. Its called Nolle Prose..something..I don't know what it means.. As a matter of fact, it happened in 1999 and until I saw it just this week.. I didn't even know she made up the "harassing a witness" and "telephone calls".. I had no idea.

    2. Employer made false unproven statements about me. She claimed I stole a contract from her (the same church hall) but she never HAD a contract...and I originally found the location before I even became her employee. It was a very short employment period..just 3 months. When she found out I cook, she said, "let's partner".. but she didn't want that really, she just wanted to have me tell her how to do it..and I decided that I didn't want to share my business knowledge any futher with her...so I left. The church knew she didn't have any cooking history - her business was something TOTALLY different. So, they said, "we don't have a contract with her, we want you to run the hall. I've been working with the church for a while now. So far, I've booked their hall and made over 5k for them...

    The same priest and the woman who posted the hall for rent will witness to the fact that no one had a contract to the hall. And, that they intend to give it to me.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Defamation by Church Attorney; Attorney Claims Due Diligence

    Ok so this forum wasn't any help. This post has been dead for a couple of days now. Guess it was too hard.. If anybody out there would like to private email me about this one please let me know.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Defamation by Church Attorney; Attorney Claims Due Diligence

    When you are asking for free legal information from volunteers you do not get to decide when they respond. Weekends happen. Volunteers have other things going on in their lives.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Defamation by Church Attorney; Attorney Claims Due Diligence

    If you want somebody to work on your schedule, the phone book is full of lawyers you can hire to evaluate your case.

    So far I see a pretty weak case for defamation - you were called a 'criminal' based upon your previously having been charged with crimes, even though the charges were dropped, and it was reported that your former employer had said bad things about you where, in fact, your former employer had said bad things about you. So far your claim for damages seems pie in the sky - if you start a catering business you might not win a specific contract (something that could happen even if you were an experienced caterer with an actual catering business, not just somebody thinking of starting a catering business and seeking her first contract).
    Quote Quoting Peroutka v. Streng, 116 Md. App. 301, 695 A. 2d 1287 (1997)
    In a case involving a plaintiff who is not a public figure, a prima facia case of defamation requires proof of the following elements:
    (1) that the defendant made a defamatory communication—i.e., that he communicated a statement tending to expose the plaintiff to public scorn, hatred, contempt, or ridicule to a third person who reasonably recognized the statement as being defamatory; (2) that the statement was false; (3) that the defendant was at fault in communicating the statement; and (4) that the plaintiff suffered harm.
    As to the first element, the determination of whether a statement "is reasonably capable of a defamatory interpretation is for the court upon reviewing the statement as a whole; words have different meanings depending on the context in which they are used and a meaning not warranted by the whole publication should not be imputed." Batson v. Shiflett, 325 Md. 684, 723, 602 A.2d 1191 (1992)
    The suggestion that you are "a criminal" might be considered defamation per se, such that damage is presumed if you can show "malice" (that the statement was made by somebody who knew it was untrue or acted in reckless disregard for the truth) and the burden of proof shifts to the defendant, but you can fully expect that the defense will attempt to argue that their interpretation of your record was reasonable under the facts and that you were in fact guilty of the various bad acts alleged by others such that calling you a "criminal" is justified even if you were not convicted of any crimes. A defamation lawsuit can have the effect of magnifying the accusation and its impact on your life, rather than causing it to be retracted or declared false.

    You can try to find a lawyer who would take your case on a contingency basis. I suspect that if you want to pursue an action with a lawyer the lawyer will want to be retained, and that at the low end the cost will be $5,000 - $10,000. But you won't know until you call some area law firms.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Defamation by Church Attorney; Attorney Claims Due Diligence

    My apologies for implying by my response text that I am not grateful for volunteers to be available to answer questions. (in a soft voice), I am not the kind of person that would be ungrateful - if you knew me personally. I hate email and typing because the opposite end can't hear, see or feel the true intent of the person communicating...

    1. By your comments about the "criminal" statement made by the attorney's personal opinion since she wasn't hire to do anything, is a great disappointment. But it proves to me that I will NEVER again offer my assistance to anyone in need - even if they are being unjustly accused because all it proves is that when the real criminal comes after me, I, in turn, will be labled - and that's what happened here.

    2. How can someone be "guilty" of an "alleged" act? And, who decided I was guilty without proof? Furthermore, don't I have the right to defend myself against unproven accusations? Perhaps my real recourse is to dig into the backgrounds of the individuals who "did me" and subsequently, "do the same thing." It's all "alleged" no doubt.. My good opinion is just as good as anybody elses.. (my comments were intended in a questioning tone, not anger..)

    3. Did my employer violate any employment law in the State of Maryland by making comments?

    And, finally, I've been a caterer for 15 years, I was seeking exclusivity as it relates to representing the church's hall. After being forced to end my business before (recession killed it), I'm really starting over.

    Thank you for any additional comments you choose to offer.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Defamation by Church Attorney; Attorney Claims Due Diligence

    In a civil case, the burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence. In a criminal case the burden of proof is "beyond a reasonable doubt". So it's possible to be found responsible for acts at a civil trial even when you weren't charged with a crime, the charges were dismissed, or even if you were acquitted after a criminal trial. But that's not what the defendant would have to do - the defendant would have to argue only that, under the facts of the situation, calling you a "criminal" was a reasonable interpretation of the facts. Also, the full statement and context of the remarks may come into play - a subtle difference in what was said can make the difference between a potentially defamatory statement and an expression of opinion or appropriate advice of counsel.

    There's no "right of privacy" under which an employer cannot give a negative reference. If the employer's statements were false and defamatory, then there's potential for a defamation suit against the employer.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Defamation by Church Attorney; Attorney Claims Due Diligence

    Ok. I understand. This helps me a great deal in my decision to pursue or not. I think I need to first start with damage control outside the courtroom first, by sending a letter to the church as well as the former employer.

    One final question. The woman who came after me by filing false charges to try to stop me from witnessing for the guy she was harrassing still has my name on her file (her file is LONG too). Is there a procedure or request I can make to remove the information from her file? Again, I am in Maryland. When she originally filed the charges I tried to tell the prosecutor it was fake - and on the back of the form it mentioned "if this is false - person filing can be convicted, etc., I couldn't convince them it was false. I didn't understand that...

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Defamation by Church Attorney; Attorney Claims Due Diligence

    What do you mean by "her file"? What file, and who maintains the file?

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