Update (July 28, 2017): A free-lance writer published criticisms on-line of Guruji Mahendra Trivedi, a man who claims to be a miracle worker, of sorts (“an ordinary man – with an extraordinary ability”). Our courts have held that most of the writer’s criticisms enjoyed heightened protection from defamation claims because Mr. Trivedi is a “limited-purpose public figure.” But not allegations about alleged sexual misconduct? Publication of these allegations does not enjoy heightened protection?
So held the Minnesota Court of Appeals (see the original post, below) and, in spite of Mr. Lang’s well-written (and to us, compelling) petition to the Minnesota Supreme Court for review, the Supreme Court recently rejected the writer’s petition. (Here is Mr. Trivedi’s opposition to the petition for review).
In our view, this is a bad outcome. It is hardly a stretch to speculate that charlatans who make their living exploiting the vulnerable with claims of super-powers and sham miracles might very well exploit victims behind closed doors, in intimate settings, where rock solid evidence may be most difficult to obtain. We note, incidentally, that Mr. Trivedi (or at least the website “trivedieffect.com”) claims that Mr. Trivedi has discovered the power “to harness…universal, intelligent energy…to optimiz[e] the human condition [and this energy supposedly] has the power to transform the cellular structures of all living organisms.” (If one is going to fall for that, wouldn’t one want to see what it’s like in bed?)
It almost seems like the decision is protecting journalists’ (and the public’s) ability to expose fraudsters halfway. It seems like bad policy. We agree with counsel for Mr. Lang and, in fact, the U.S. Supreme Court that: “Uncertainty as to the scope of the constitutional protection can only dissuade protected speech–the more elusive the standard, the less protection it affords.”
And isn’t the result here that journalists will be tight-lipped about allegations of sexual misconduct of public figures for fear of lawsuits and perpetrators might enjoy greater protection for some of their most serious wrong-doing?
Original post (May 3, 2017): Mr. Mahendra Trivedi, the Trivedi Foundation, and the Trivedi Companies (Trivedi) claim to have performed 70,000 miracles around the world and, believe it or not, some people are skeptical.
Dennis Lang, a free-lance writer, wrote a story about the so-called Trivedi Effect and the Trivedi business, suggesting Trivedi’s busines is a sham.
Judge Robert Awsumb of the Ramsey County District Court threw Trivedi’s case of defamation against Lang out, ruling that Trivedi was a “limited-purpose public-figure” and Mr. Lang was a “media defendant” based on his on-line publication of seven freelance articles. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed in part but reversed in part.
Unfortunately for Mr. Lang, the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that his alleged statements of Mr. Trivedi’s alleged sexual improprieties stood apart from Trivedi’s other defamation claims, which were tossed out.
Unlike Lang’s statements of the sham nature of the Trivedi Effect, the Court ruled, “Trivedi’s sexual conduct is insufficient to make that subject one of public debate…Therefore, [Lang’s] statements concerning sexual matters are not part of the public controversy…While [Lang’s] accusations of Trivedi’s sexual misconduct are serious and troubling, there is no public controversy extending to them.”
That fact that Mr. Trivedi’s sex life is not a subject of public debate means that the defamation plaintiff (Mr. Trivedi) need not offer proof of actual malice for these claims to go forward. Mr. Lang’s only defense to these claims, it seems, will be to prove that the allegations are true. Needless to say, this could be difficult and expensive for Mr. Lang. On the other hand, this could be difficult, expensive, and also embarrassing for Mr. Trivedi.