PCW partner Matt Maguire, along with co-counsel Jonathan Pope of Hasty Pope, LLP, obtained a verdict of $833,000 (and total judgment in excess of $1,000,000) for their client, James Lyle, in a hard-fought libel case against the Tea Party Patriots, Inc. (“TPP”) and its volunteer employee, Lee Martin. Mr. Martin was the husband of TPP co-founder and board member Jenny Beth Martin. The Plaintiff, Mr. Lyle, was in a relationship with Amy Kremer, another co-founder of TPP who had previously been removed from the TPP board and who became affiliated with a rival tea party faction called Tea Party Express. While using a fake profile, Mr. Martin posted on a tea party activist’s Facebook wall that James Lyle had molested Amy Kremer’s teenaged daughter and that Amy Kremer kicked her daughter out of the house for reporting the molestation to the police. The entire post was false. Mr. Lyle did not molest the daughter, nor had he ever been accused of doing so.
Plaintiff filed the case in Cherokee County Superior Court in 2011. The defendants filed motions to dismiss and for summary judgment alleging anti-SLAPP violations, constitutional attacks on Georgia’s libel laws, and TPP and Mr. Martin both denied having an agency relationship. The evidence of agency came from a former TPP Board member who testified that the false allegation about the Plaintiff had been aired in a board meeting before Mr. Martin made the post and that one board member suggested the story should be planted in the media to discredit Ms. Kremer. Plaintiff was also able to show that TPP voluntarily assumed responsibility for Mr. Martin’s legal fees in the action.
Following an interlocutory appeal, the case finally went to trial in June 2017. After a 5-day trial, the jury awarded compensatory damages of $833,000 against TPP and Martin, jointly and severally. The jury also found TPP (but not Mr. Martin) liable for attorneys’ fees and expenses, and the court awarded $200,000 in fees and expenses based upon a stipulation between the parties as to the amount. TPP’s post-trial motion has been denied.
The case is Lyle v. Tea Party Patriots.