1/21/2009 - FCA announced in September that prominent funeral director and author Thomas Lynch sued us in federal court, claiming we libeled and defamed him. The suit also names the Funeral Ethics Organization, its Executive Director Lisa Carlson, and the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Idaho, our volunteer-run chapter in that state. Detroit's arts and weekly, the Detroit Metro Times, put the story on their cover this week. It's well worth the read.
Writer Sandra Svoboda didn't stop at the dispute between Lynch and consumer advocates who've criticized him; she dug in to issues of free speech, the law, and the way Americans do - and don't - talk about death. Especially interesting - though not a surprise to anyone who understands libel law - were the quotes from various lawyers:
Attorney William Burdett, of Grosse Pointe Park, is representing the Funeral Ethics Organization pro bono. He says the longtime Lynch-Carlson disagreement is part of a healthy and active debate about options for caring for the dead. With the lawsuit, Burdett says, Lynch is trying to challenge Carlson's and others' right to criticize his opinions.
"This is simply a case where he doesn't like the fact that some people disagree with the positions that he has. Disagreement is one of the cornerstones of the First Amendment, that we're allowed to express our opinions about people, especially our disagreement with publicly available opinions," Burdett says. "I'm a First Amendment attorney. I'm here to protect her speech."
and. . .
As the attorney for the Michigan Press Association, Dawn Phillips Hertz has been involved in hundreds of libel cases during the last 25 years, defending newspapers from claims like Lynch's. In her opinion, it will be "difficult" for Lynch to win. He will likely need to show that Carlson and the organizations knew her statements were false when she made them and they published them or they recklessly disregarded the truth, if he is to prevail in the case.
"It's a very difficult case to win. The burden of proof for a plaintiff who's a public figure like Thomas Lynch is that he's got to prove she did not believe what she said," Hertz says. "The defendants are sincere in their criticism of him. Absent some bombshell in discovery, I don't see how he'll prevail."
The suit's scheduled for trial in September of 2009, and we'll keep you updated (we fully expect to prevail).