Highlights From Courtney Love's Testimony at 'Twibel' Trial
On Thursday, a trial against Courtney Love neared its finishing stages as closing statements were delivered.
The colorful rock star is being sued for defamation over an allegedly defamatory tweet concerning her former attorney, Rhonda Holmes, who was 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 f---ing devestated [sic] when Rhonda J. Holmes esq. of san diego was bought off."
The trial isn't the first to address defamation on Twitter. But it's the first one inside a U.S. courtroom involving a celebrity. And because of that, this so-called "twibel" proceeding is unique. Holmes, through her connection with Love, has been deemed a limited-purpose public figure, and as such, Holmes will need to demonstrate that Love acted with malice. That puts a famous Twitter user's state of mind front and center.
On Thursday, Judge Michael Johnson threw out claims by Holmes' law firm, leaving Holmes herself as the only plaintiff. The judge found factual issues regarding per se libel, pushing the issue to the jury. If the jurors decide that Love has indeed defamed Holmes, the next task will be quantifying the damage. And that's where this trial could be special once again, since no jury until this point has addressed "twibel" damages in the context of a celebrity with many followers and retweets. One thing the judge has already ruled out, though, is the possibility of damages for publicity generated by the lawsuit.
What follows are highlights from Love's testimony on Wednesday.
John Lawrence, Love's attorney, called her to the witness stand. One of the first lines of inquiry was why Holmes had been retained in the first place. This brought an entertaining answer about who else in the entertainment industry had led her down this path.
Lawrence: When did you start to believe that Kurt Cobain's estate and your assets may have been mismanaged?
Love: The first time was in 2003. I ran into a box with 102 credit card receipts in it that made no sense. And then just over the years, it just became more and more obvious. I came from nothing, so to me, $100,000 is a fortune. So then I started talking to other musicians, Bono from U2, Lenny Kravitz, and they started talking to me about finances, and it was obvious that there was something really, really wrong.
Lawrence: What did you do about that?
Love: Well, I started telling my entertainment attorneys about it, and I started looking for an outside attorney, particularly, like, a fraud litigator. And I started looking online myself.
Lawrence: You didn't get any member from the entertainment attorneys.
Love: No, no, I didn't.
Lawrence: Did you believe some of them might have, in fact, been involved?
Love: I'm positive that several of them were involved, yes.
Holmes was eventually hired. The attorney allegedly reinforced Love's suspicion of a conspiracy. And Love was over the moon that someone was standing by her side.
Lawrence: How did it make you feel to know that there were people that now, at this point in time, believed that, yes, there was merit to your fraud case.
Love: Elated, like I wasn't wearing a tinfoil hat anymore. Mostly that I could go into my daughter's room and tell her that it was over, and she could talk about boys again and have me back as a mother. It was the biggest deal ever, because after the FBI dropped me, nobody believed me. And it was like when the News of the World tapped my phone, nobody believed that either, and then in '08, it all came out about the voice hacking. But this was bigger than that, and there was no -- nobody -- the people that were in on it obviously believed me, and there's some big lawyers in town who said things to me like, "Courtney, I have to live in this community. I'll answer to a subpoena."
The relationship between Love and Holmes headed south sometime around April 2009. Love testified that her ex-attorney told her of hacked bank accounts and emails and being threatened in the parking lot. Love says she believed this was connected to the underlying fraud conspiracy. Love says in one of their last conversations how she spoke to Holmes about convincing her daughter not to drop out of high school. Sometime thereafter, the two stopped communicating. According to Love, she never told Holmes that her services were no longer required. (Holmes has refuted this.) Then came the tweet.
Lawrence: What were you trying to convey when you wrote that tweet?
Love: Well, I wanted to find out if Rhonda had vanished, so that's why I gave her name specifically. The conversation that night with those kids -- I'm sort of a computer retard, and back then -- now I know how to DM [direct message] perfectly, but then I didn't know how to DM perfectly, so I thought I was DM'ing. I thought I was making a private thing. So I was trying to convey that I thought she'd been bought off.
Lawrence: And what did you mean by bought off?
Love: It isn't like someone comes up to you with a suitcase. It could be power; it could be this very case.
Lawrence: So you felt that somehow she'd been compromised in some fashion; is that right?
During the above direct examination, Love tried to offer some theory about how everything was connected, how Holmes' lawsuit against her could be tied to her general feeling that her ex-lawyer had stepped away from her side. At one point, she even suggested that Barry Langberg, Holmes' attorney, was somehow caught up here. Obviously, this came up in cross-examination. There might have even been a hint to the jury that Love's testimony was a performance.
Langberg: You really don't think I'm part of this conspiracy, right?
Love: No, I'm sorry.
Langberg: I know it wasn't personal, but when you say the person's name, it becomes personal.
Love: I know. You're a powerful lawyer, and I'm sorry.
Langberg: At the start, you said you were a musician. True?
Love: And I act sometimes, too.
Langberg: And I was going to bring that up. You're an accomplished actress, right?
Love: Yes, sir.
The cross-examination eventually got to what Love was thinking when she composed the tweet. If Love didn't have ill will toward Holmes, it will at least need to be shown that the singer acted recklessly with regard to the truth. But then again, up until this point, Love has maintained that the tweet was "substantially true," which would give her an alternative out from being held liable.
Langberg: You knew that when you made that tweet, you knew that the phrase "bought off'" was a negative, right? I mean it wasn't good?
Love: It's not good.
Langberg: And you knew that even particularly for a lawyer to say that -- that a lawyer was bought off -- that's not good, right?
Love: No, it's not good.
And a short time later …
Langberg: Can you point us to one document, one person's testimony, one anything, that shows that Rhonda Holmes took a bribe to stop representing you? Can you point us to anything like that?
Love: I don't think she took a bribe.
Langberg: OK. Good?
Love: I don't know that she did.
Langberg: Can you point us to anything, anything, any statement by anyone, any piece of paper, any document that shows us that Rhonda Holmes was paid ever, paid to stop representing you?
Love: I can't point to you, but I think something happened -- threats by more powerful counsel.
Langberg: In your own mind, knowing that what you said -- that accusation of being bought off -- could negatively affect an attorney, do you think it was reckless for you to say it in the tweet?
Love: I believed it when I said it.
The case is expected to be handed to a jury on Friday with a verdict thereafter.