A Los Angeles judge Thursday awarded more than $60,000 in attorneys' fees and associated costs to a website recently removed as a defendant in a defamation lawsuit filed by a trainer against Ultimate Fighting Championship stars Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Tito Ortiz.
On Sept. 7, Superior Court Judge Zaven Sinanian granted a motion by lawyers to dismiss the part of the case pertaining to CagePotato.com, despite arguments by plaintiff Juanito Ibarra's lawyer that the mixed martial arts website published additional articles containing false information about his client after the lawsuit was filed.
Attorneys for the website then filed a motion for $81,735 in attorneys' fees, noting the amount was about half what the judge gave the Houston Chronicle, another former defendant that Sinanian also removed from the case. Sinanian granted the site $61,075.
The fighters are now the remaining defendants in a lawsuit that once included numerous other media outlets that included reporter David Carpinello and the Internet publication PunchDrunkGamer.com.
The defamation allegation stems from an interview given to Carpinello in September 2008, when Ortiz said Ibarra, Jackson's former trainer, was a "thief" who had "taken advantage of Rampage" financially, according to the lawsuit.
Attorneys for Ibarra argued that Carpinello did not check his facts or try to get a response from their client before the story was published in PunchDrunkGamer and then republished by the other media.
Ibarra has settled with some of the websites that published the Ortiz interview.
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MMA Junkie's Ask the Cage Counsel recently publiched a free-speech primer for the MMA industry that has relevance to the CagePotato case.
First Amendment to the United States Constitution:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
The First Amendment only protects citizens from consequences issued by the government.
It has been extended to apply to not just "free" speech, but also commercial speech such as advertisements, as well as to acts, rather than words, of expression.
The First Amendment does not apply to non-government entities. If you own an MMA promotion, you can generally restrict what your fighters can and cannot say.
This principle applies to any non-government company, organization, website, etc., all of which are free to set their own rules governing conversations on their property or forum.
It is important to remember there are many types of speech that are almost never legal. These include:
Verbal assault (making statements that place someone in fear for his safety);
Oobscenity (expression that appeals to the "prurient interest," violating local community standards and lacking "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value");
Copyright infringement (copying someone else's expression without permission): and,
Defamation (saying something false about someone that causes him harm).
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