4 Questions to Answer Before Writing “Scathing” Exposés About People

4 Questions to Answer Before Writing “Scathing” Exposés About People

I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. Please consult with an attorney for your specific legal questions. That said…

A writer contacted me this week asking if he could write “scathing articles” on televangelists. I’m sharing my response here: 

Anybody can get sued for anything. The four questions you need to ask yourself are:

1. Can you afford a lengthy court battle against someone who likely makes millions?

He or she can afford to drag you through court for years. Can YOU afford to pay a law firm for years of representation? If you stop paying your attorney, he or she might quit your case.

“The circumstances under which an attorney may withdraw mid-case include: The client is refusing to pay the attorney for his or her services in violation of their fee agreement…”
Lawyers.com

And, if you leave an attorney with significant unpaid bills, it can be very difficult to find another attorney to take his or her place.

2. Can you handle the stress associated with such a battle?

Legal battles are very stressful. You might lose months of sleep and the stress can take a toll on your physical health as well.

3. Do the laws in your country allow you to collect your legal fees if you eventually win?

In the U.S., there are very few circumstances that result in the award of attorney’s fees, even if you win. One exception is if the lawsuit is declared frivolous. State laws vary. Other countries have different laws as well. So, if you’re located in the U.S., and if the lawsuit is not thrown out in the beginning, you could spend tens to hundreds of thousands in legal fees and, even if you win in the end, you might not be able to collect those from the plaintiff.

“The losing side does not ordinarily have to pay the winning side’s attorney’s fees, contrary to popularly held belief. In the United States, the general rule (called the American Rule) is that each party pays only their own attorney’s fees, regardless of whether they win or lose. This allows people to bring cases and lawsuits without the fear of incurring excessive costs if they lose the case. In contrast, in England and other countries, the losing side is often required to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees after losing a trial.

“(A) common state law allows for attorneys’ fees to be paid by the losing side if an attorney for the losing side filed a lawsuit knowing there was no reason, or “grounds,” for the lawsuit.”

Nolo.com

4. Is what you plan to write going to be clearly stated as an opinion or will you be presenting facts that might be difficult, expensive and/or impossible to prove in court?

Writing “Father so-and-so is a jerk” is clearly an opinion. Writing “Father so-and-so is a child molester” is not (unless he has been convicted of such crimes).

A televangelist may be considered a public figure but that doesn’t mean the press, authors, or bloggers can have a field day with them. Please see:

“My novel features real politicians. Since they’re public figures, I can’t be sued, right?” YES, YOU CAN!

and

PUBLIC FIGURES AND LIBEL: “I want to write a tell-all book about a celebrity I once knew. Can a public figure sue me?”

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