A Toronto lawyer obtained a default judgment against an anonymous blogger who wrote defamatory comments about him online.
Superior Court Justice Robert Goldstein awarded $200,000 in damages against an unknown defendant in Manson v. John Doe, and chastised the person for “cowardly failure to identify himself.”
The online attacks began in January 2010, when lawyer Tycho Manson became aware of postings on a Blogger site calling him incriminating names.
“The Blogger posts suggested that the plaintiff was a lying crook, a Nazi, a pedophile and rapist, a thief, and a morally repugnant imbecile,” Goldstein wrote in his recent ruling. “The plaintiff is obviously none of those things.”
In his judgment, Goldstein also wrote the malicious nature of the comments couldn’t be disputed.
“There is no possibility that an ordinary, right-thinking member of the public would not find that the posts exposed the plaintiff to contempt, ridicule, fear, dislike, or disesteem,” the judge said.
Manson is happy with the court’s decision, says his counsel David Chernos, a partner at Torys LLP.
“Mr. Manson is very pleased with the manner in which the court dealt with this matter,” he says. “The judgment that was released speaks for itself.”
The anonymous blogger sent links to the defamatory posts to Manson’s employers at Sun Media Corp. using the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org. An e-mail from Law Times sent to this address bounced back with a note saying the account no longer exists.
In August 2010, after Manson commenced his lawsuit against the defendant, Law Times tried to contact the blogger via the same account.
A person claiming to be the anonymous blogger replied: “We vehemently and categorically deny Mr. Manson’s baseless, unfounded, capricious, and laughable claims. This action is nothing more than a clever attempt to silence dissent and constructive criticisms.”
When Manson’s lawyer sent a message to the e-mail address, attaching materials of a motion that would be brought against the blogger, “the defendant responded that the lawbuzz account could not receive attachments and claimed that he did not receive the motion materials,” according to the ruling.
“There are few things more cowardly and insidious than an anonymous blogger who posts spiteful and defamatory comments about reputable member of the public and then hides behind the electronic curtain provided by the Internet,” wrote Goldstein.
In his statement of claim, Manson mentioned suffering particular distress about comments regarding his personal life, which portrayed his relationship with his spouse “in negative, obscene, and even violent light.”
Chernos declined to say how the litigation has affected Manson, who only agreed to speak through his lawyer.
Google repeatedly refused requests to shut down the Blogger site, according to Manson’s statement of claim. But in July 2010, the company removed the posts from the web. That didn’t stop the defendant, who started posting defamatory comments on a WordPress blog, Goldstein said. The WordPress comments were also later removed.
Goldstein said Manson and his counsel have tried unsuccessfully to reveal the defendant. Chernos says he can’t speak publicly about his client’s progress in unmasking the blogger. He also declined to say if they believe the defendant is in Canada.
The blogger’s lack of apology, retraction, or justification for the comments warrants a $50,000 charge, which was included in the damages cost, the judge said, adding he considered the defendant’s neglect of a court order an aggravating factor.
“Reflecting, as the court does, community standards, it is clear that a strong message of denunciation and deterrence must be sent,” Goldstein said. “No doubt if the defendant is ever identified he will face contempt proceedings.”
The lawsuit first began when three lawyers, including Manson, were sued for defamation for comments made on legal gossip web site, lawbuzz.ca (the site no longer exists). The charges against the three lawyers were dismissed with no cost after a settlement was reached in June 2011.