Michigan Supreme Court addresses Leelanau County defamation case
Derith Smith filed suit against several political opponents after they sent an anonymous mailing to several hundred Leelanau residents, containing a report from Smith's prior employment that had incorrectly attributed illegal actions to Ms. Smith. Smith achieved a small verdict against Donald Barrows, John Stanek and Noel Flohe on the basis that they demonstrated actual malice in mailing out defamatory claims that they should have known had not been verified.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals noted that Smith was an elected "public official" and therefore faced the highest possible threshold in proving that her detractors were guilty of defamation. On that basis, and reluctant to "chill free public speech" the Court of Appeals had ruled that Smith did not prove her claims adequately and overturned the verdict. This week, the Supreme Court partially disagreed. It upheld the dismissal of the claim against one Defendant, but returned the remaining claim to the Court of Appeals for further analysis. On a four-to-three vote, the Justices concluded that actual malice by two of the co-conspirators had been adequately proved, but that the Defendants' remaining appellate arguments must now be addressed.