Perhaps only Taylor can answer that question at this point. But a close look at his complaint raises serious concerns.
Taylor appears to borrow a trick from Birmingham attorney Bill Baxley, who along with Rob Riley, represents Deputy Attorney General and Team Riley member Sonny Reagan in an ongoing Lee County grand-jury investigation. The probe focuses on House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) and reportedly could involve a take down of former Governor Bob Riley's political machine.
So what about those tricks Taylor might have picked up from Bill Baxley? In his complaint, Taylor lists fictitious defendants A, B, and C and refers to them as "those persons, firms, associations, or corporations unknown to Plaintiff who funded, fomented, directed, or, jointly with the named Defendants, maliciously published, or caused to be published, the false and defamatory article complained of herein, each of whom will, upon discovery, be substituted by amendment pursuant to Rule 9(h), Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure."
That language is almost identical to that Baxley used in a lawsuit against me, on behalf of former Luther Strange campaign aide Jessica Medeiros Garrison. What does it mean?
It means Taylor wants to use the discovery process to learn the identity of APR's news sources and its financial supporters. He then wants to add those individuals and entities to his lawsuit.
Translation: As a public official subject to the high bar of "reckless disregard," Taylor might not have a winnable defamation case against APR's Bill and Susan Britt. But he might be able to sue, and essentially terrorize, the Britt's sources and backers. That, in an indirect way, could chill the Web site's investigative reporting.
If that proves to be the real goal of Taylor's lawsuit, he would not be the first Riley Machine member to file a defamation lawsuit with an ulterior purpose. As we showed in a post yesterday, Rob Riley's lawsuit that led to my unlawful incarceration roughly one year ago bore no resemblance to a regular defamation lawsuit. That strongly suggests it was filed with some other purpose in mind.
Most alarmingly, Riley did not seek a jury trial, which a long line of case law says is required in defamation cases. That means Riley wanted his case to go only before Judge Claud Neilson and not a group of his fellow citizens.
Taylor deserves credit for fashioning a complaint that at least looks like a legitimate defamation case. But when you consider the timing of his lawsuit, so soon after APR's breaking stories about Sonny Reagan and the Riley Machine, and his apparent desire to get at the Web site's sources and backers . . . well, it raises questions about what's really going on.
Can the Britts do anything about it, other than defend themselves? I think the answer is yes. I would suggest they consider a countersuit for abuse of process. That is a tort that involves several elements, but it mainly is designed to fight lawsuits filed with an ulterior purpose.
If the Britts were to file a counterclaim for abuse of process, I suspect it might give Bryan Taylor considerable pause. It would give the Britts a chance to learn who, if anyone, might be backing Bryan Taylor's lawsuit. Valid countersuits have a way of "turning the tables."
Here is a question for readers to ponder: If Rob Riley did not want his case to go before a jury, and Bryan Taylor is interested mainly in APR's sources and backers, what does that say about the quality of their defamation claims?