Court rejects ex-spouse's defamation claim arising out of adversary's questioning in court hearing
The divorce between Alexandra Bedford and Abedel Abushmaies has apparently been exceptionally contentious and hostile. Ultimately, Bedford sought the court's permission to move her children to Florida where she had arranged a new job as a veterinarian. Abushmaies contested the move and at a hearing to decide the issue, he represented himself. He apparently asked a number of impertinent and sarcastic questions of Bedford's potential new employer. The judge denied Bedford the right to change the childrens' domicile and she responded with a defamation suit against her ex-.
The trial judge dismissed Bedford's multi-count defamation claim, holding that as a matter of law she could not sue over Abushmaies' in-court remarks. The Court of Appeals this week upheld the lower court's ruling, but on a different legal basis. The higher court held that not all in-court statements were automatically immune from claims of defamation or slander. Nevertheless, since the remarks were all part of the lower court record, the facts were undisputed and could be evaluated factually. After considering the remarks, the Court of Appeals noted that they were reasonably relevant, within the protecte fundamental right of cross-examination, and had not been waived by the parties' settlement agreement executed when the divorce was finalized.
The Court allowed that perhaps a party could "waive" a fundamental right such as the right to contest custody or to participate in cross-examination at a contested hearing, but that normally these fundamental rights are only waived if they do not violate public policy and are waived by a knowing, voluntary and clear expression of intent.