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This Monday, Courtney Love will go to trial in a groundbreaking case.
The rock star will not only become the first celebrity to defend an allegedly defamatory tweet inside a U.S. courtroom, but she might have to address the wild and maybe uncontrollable way she’s acted in the past.
She’s being pursued by Rhonda Holmes, an attorney the star once hired to handle a fraud case against those managing the estate of Kurt Cobain, the late Nirvana frontman and Love’s husband. Holmes is suing Love over a 2010 tweet that read in part, “I was fucking devestated [sic] when Rhonda J. Holmes esq. of san diego was bought off.” (Love is also facing claims over a follow-up interview she gave to a reporter.)
The jury’s tasks starts with figuring out whether those who follow Love on Twitter reasonably understood the statement to be about her former lawyer (and her law firm).
Then, there’s the issue of intent.
Love maintains that she meant to send a “DM” (private direct message) and accidently sent her message to the public via Twitter. Holmes is a limited-purpose public figure, so she’ll have to demonstrate that Love acted with malice.
The rock star can pursue her “mistake” defense, but it could open up a wider inquiry into Love’s larger behavior. This isn’t the first time that Love has been sued over a tweet. Her daughter once recommended that Twitter ban her mother.
Love looked to prevent her other tweets from coming up at the trial, but Judge Michael Johnson only granted the motion in part. Other lawsuits against Love will be excluded from the jury’s ears. But the judge also decides, “The general rule is that except as permitted by statute, evidence of a person’s character is not admissible to prove conduct on a specific occasion; However, evidence of conduct may be introduced to prove some relevant fact other than character or disposition, such as intent, knowledge or absence of mistake.”
If Love’s “mistake” defense fails, she’s got another potential arrow to shoot down the defamation claim. She’s also pursuing the defense that the tweet was substantially true. The judge is largely allowing the singer to introduce all sorts of evidence about the attorney-client relationship here.
Finally, even if Holmes is able to prevail against Love by showing the tweet was reasonably understood to communicate an untruth about the lawyer taking a bribe, there’s the issue of damages. The plaintiff will be asking for great punitive damages because tweets by celebrities travel far and wide. Love, on the other hand, will attempt to show that the tweet caused her ex-attorney no professional harm.
Love is among those on a joint witness list that has been submitted. Others scheduled to give testimony are journalists, former Love assistants and economic and language experts versed in the medium of Twitter.
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