Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Jessica Medeiros Garrison's purchase of an $835,000 house in Mountain Brook causes her $3.5-million default judgment for "defamation" to spring a leak

Jessica Medeiros Garrison and Luther Strange
Jessica Medeiros Garrison's recent purchase of an $835,000 home in Mountain Brook pops a hole in the $3.5-million default judgment Jefferson County Circuit Judge Don Blankenship awarded her in a defamation case against me.

The house purchase, when viewed in light of Blankenship's order and actual Alabama law, indicates Garrison should have received no damages, even if the finding that I defamed her is assumed correct -- which it wasn't.

Garrison, a Republican operative best known for her close relationship to Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, sued me in fall 2013 -- about the same time Shelby County deputies beat me and doused me with pepper spray in my own home and dragged me to jail for a five-month stay. Garrison's complaint alleged that my posts about her extramarital affair with Strange were false and defamatory. She received a default judgment after my wife, Carol, and I were forced to go through a dubious foreclosure on our home of 25 years and wound up being forced to move to Missouri (where I grew up). After the move, I received no notice of actions in the Garrison case -- essentially, I was rendered unable to defend myself, even though I appeared in the case at least twice while in jail -- and that led to Blankenship's default ruling, which has no basis in fact or law.

We will take a closer look at the default judgment in upcoming posts, but for now, our emphasis is on the off-the-charts damages Garrison was awarded. Nothing in the record suggests Garrison's claim merited anything beyond nominal damages, and probably not even that. Newly discovered evidence -- in the form of her recent house purchase that gets pretty close to $1 million -- suggests she should have gotten damages, maybe, sufficient to secure her a hot dog from Sneaky Pete's.

The law of damages in a defamation case is complex, and we won't go into a comprehensive review of the subject. But the off-the-wall nature of the damages, and Garrison's subsequent purchase of a pricey house, point to at least three key issues related to defamation damages. (Defamation, by the way, refers both to libel [unlawful written communications] and slander [unlawful verbal communications]

Defamation per se or per quod

Under Alabama law, the only way to receive damages in a defamation case, especially significant damages, is to prove that you've been the victim of defamation per se or per quod. What does that mean? Here is an explanation from a case styled Blevins v. W.F. Barnes Corp. (Ala. Civ. App., 1999):

“The foundation of an action for libel or slander is a malicious injury to reputation, and any false and malicious imputation of crime or moral delinquency by one published of and concerning another, which subjects the person to disgrace, ridicule, odium, or contempt in the estimation of his friends and acquaintances, or the public, with resulting damage to his reputation, is actionable either per se or per quod․”

In every-day language, a per se claim (meaning "on its face") involves allegedly false imputations regarding criminal conduct (an indictable offense of infamy or moral turpitude), and at least nominal damages are assumed when such a claim is proven before a jury. In short, Garrison had to prove she had a per se claim to receive nominal or compensatory damages. (See Drill Parts v. Joy Mfg., 619 So. 2d 1280 [Ala. Supreme Court 1993])

A per quod claim does not involve imputations regarding a crime of infamy or moral turpitude. In a per quod claim, the plaintiff must allege and prove special damages.

We invite you to view Blankenship's ruling, the one granting Garrison $3.5 million, at the end of this post. Does he make a finding of either defamation per se or defamation per quod? No, he does not. Even Garrison does not claim I imputed criminal conduct or acts of moral turpitude. For such a substantial award, there would have to be a finding of defamation per se. But there is no such finding. That means the monstrous damages have no support in law, and neither would mere nominal damages.

In his order, Blankenship breaks the award into $1.5 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages. But we've already shown that, without a finding of defamation per se or per quod, there is no basis for compensatory damages at all. And without compensatory damages, there can be no punitive damages. (See Tanner v. Ebbele, Ala. Civ. App., 2011.)

Bottom line? Garrison's damages, under the law, equal zero.

Defamation and mental anguish

According to Blankenship's order, Garrison mostly claimed damages related to mental anguish. The order states, "Plaintiff further testified that the comments contained in the blog were embarrassing, hurtful and degrading." The order further states that since "comments posted to the blog have become widely known," Garrison "constantly suffers from embarrassment and anxiety." (Note: The court's words suggest Garrison was harmed by comments that readers posted to Legal Schnauzer, not by anything I reported. Law in the Internet age has held that publishers of Web sites or blogs are not legally responsible for comments left by third parties.)

Under Alabama law, there can only be a finding of mental suffering once defamation per se has been proven. (See Tanner v. Ebbele.) Without a per se finding from Blankenship, there can be no damages for mental suffering.

Also, this is where the newly discovered evidence of Garrison's home purchase enters the picture. Her purchase of an $835,000 house in Mountain Brook is almost twice what she paid for her previous "Tiny Kingdom" home. If Garrison was suffering so mightily from embarrassment and anxiety, how was she able to establish financial standing that would allow her to buy such a pricey house? Wouldn't such a traumatized person barely be able to hang on to the house she already had?

Defamation and job performance

According to Blankenship's order, Garrison claimed the "defamation" had affected her in the workplace. From the order: "[Garrison] testified further that the comments made it difficult to perform her job." (Again, the court's words suggest it was reader comments, not my reporting, that caused problems for Garrison.)

How badly was Garrison harmed in her professional life? Well, since being "defamed," she's been able to purchase a house that is worth almost twice what her previous house was worth? That suggests Garrison's professional standing actually has improved since my posts hit the Web. Shoot, maybe Garrison should ask me to "defame" her more often.

The bottom line? Using Blankenship's own words, and his version of Garrison's testimony in court, there is no legal support for any damages against me. But that hardly is the only way her judgment has sprung a leak.

(To be continued)


Anonymous said...

In my mind, Garrison knew up top that she had no defamation case against you. It was all done for show, probably to terrorize you and your wife into giving up your home in Birmingham.

Anonymous said...

Odd that she seems to want to blame you for comments readers left. Common sense should tell you that isn't going to fly.

legalschnauzer said...

That's been part of her scam from the outset. I think her original complaint made references to comments left by readers. I thought, "How big of idiots are you?" The law on that is not unclear, and it's not all that new. But I agree with @2:44. Her claim never had a thing to do with facts or law.

Anonymous said...

Did Luther have his way with Jessica "per se" or "per quod"? Oops, I might get sued since I left a naughty comment on Legal Schnauzer.

Anonymous said...

The photo mentioned in the judgment was NOT "photoshopped." It was cut from a larger photo that also showed Kevin Turner (standing in front and to the side of Strange and Ms. Garrison), but Ms. Garrison herself had cut the photo in that fashion to show Luther and she embracing and used it as her profile picture on twitter. By no definition I am aware of was the picture "photoshopped." Simply untrue statement in the document.

Anonymous said...

Garrison must be one sorry-ass lawyer.

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for your insights, @3:12. I didn't know the photo had been used on Garrison's Twitter page. I just knew I didn't Photoshop it; I've never used Photoshop. If she claimed in court that I Photoshopped it, that would make two instances of perjury on her part. The other is when she claimed I had reported that Luther was the "Baby Daddy" of her son. I never reported that. I don't think any commenters even said that, though some might have joked about rumors flying around at the time.

Unknown said...

Yeah, Garrison must have received her law degree out of a cracker jack box

Anonymous said...

Good golly, it looks like your "defamation" actually helped her job performance. Could you "defame" me so I can buy a house that's worth twice what the one I currently have is worth? Would appreciate that very much.

Anonymous said...

You made me snort milk out of my nose, @3:04. I think I snorted "per se."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for running the Blankenship order, LS. Don't think I've seen that before. Very interesting. I'm not a lawyer, but even I know you can't have punitive damages when there are no grounds for compensatory damages. I think they just picked this huge number out of the sky to scare you.

legalschnauzer said...

This is the order where Blankenship granted Garrison a default judgment and damages -- even though I never was notified that Garrison had even applied for a default judgment or that a hearing had been set. I think I've run this order one time before, but I'm not certain about that.

There is a second similar order -- where Blankenship denied my motion to vacate the default judgment -- and I know I haven't run that previously. I will be publishing that soon, along with posts that show Blankenship was obligated under the law to vacate the default, but refused to do it.

I actually had quite a bit of respect for Blankenship at one time. But I have zero respect for him now. He's a con man, just like so many other Alabama judges. I can only assume that someone paid him under the table or made him promises (that he wouldn't face a challenger for re-election?) to get him to make these bogus rulings?

Unknown said...

per se, the purchase seems a little fishy. Somehow, it seems, the Bank facilitated the transaction. For a person that works a job, her debt/ratio would be too high to qualify for a loan. That is, she would have pay cash or make a substantial down payment of which would have to be verified. This is, where did the money come from? The monthly note on a loan maybe around 6K or higher,depending on interest rates?

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for your insights, Shaheed. Those banking issues had not occurred to me. I do know that she sold her previous house to an executive at ServisFirst Bank, Ray Petty. She bought the new house from an exec at Alabama Power, Howard R. Torch.

I wonder if there could be IRS implications in these transactions.

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to Mrs. Luther Strange? Has she vanished into thin air?

legalschnauzer said...

I have some insights on that, @3:58. Will be reporting shortly.

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like someone is financially supporting Jessica G's high style of living. Why would they do that? Maybe to keep her quiet about something?

Anonymous said...

Is this judge related to Eddie Blankenship?

legalschnauzer said...

Yes, I think Don is Eddie's son. I might be wrong about that, but that's what I've heard. Would welcome anyone who knows more and would care to correct me.

Anonymous said...

It seems the fashion in Alabama these days is for these professional women to resort to unprofessional means.

e.a.f. said...

it just made me howl with laughter. not about your being sued but the award. If she is "damaged" by what you wrote/said, then please, I'd like to be damaged to the extent I could afford to purchase a house at that price as would tens of millions of others.

ah, the Alabama legal system, not so much legal but one hell of a system for those who get to "work it".