Legal Ethics

Is grievance filed over lawyer's blog post a 'lightweight defamation claim'?

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A Michigan psychiatrist who is a member of the state’s attorney discipline board is seeking investigation of a lawyer’s blog post that questioned whether her expert testimony used “hatchet job tactics.”

The lawyer blogger, Steven Gursten, has posted at his Michigan Auto Law blog the request for investigation (PDF) filed by disciplinary board member Rosalind Griffin. In the request, Griffin says Gursten’s statements “misrepresent my credentials, my testimony, and my character” and suggest that she committed perjury. The attorney discipline board functions as an appellate tribunal after a hearing panel rules in an ethics case.

The Consumer Law & Policy Blog notes the controversy and says it “amounts to a lightweight defamation claim” filed six days after the statute of limitations expired for a defamation lawsuit. “One might well question whether that is a sound use of public resources,” the consumer blog says, “and indeed whether the First Amendment is offended by letting Griffin burst free of the constraints imposed on defamation claims by state law and the First Amendment.”

Griffin had examined a client of Gursten’s who was injured in an auto accident. She was selected by the insurer for the defendant, Gursten says. “If Dr. Griffin has her way,” Gursten writes, “this blog post may be one of my last. But I’m not backing down.”

In the blog post at issue, Gursten wrote that doctors who conduct “independent medical exams” for auto insurers “do enormous damage to people, and they get away with it time and time again. But maybe not every time. Today I’ll discuss my cross-examination of Dr. Rosalind Griffin, who many attorneys regard as a rather notorious IME doctor in Michigan.”

Gursten goes on to list nine examples of Griffin’s testimony in his client’s lawsuit. “Decide for yourself whether my top 9 ‘hatchet job’ tactics were used by Dr. Griffin in my case,” he writes. In the first example, Gursten writes, “Did Dr. Griffin lie in her IME report and during her videotaped deposition by specifically claiming [Gursten’s client] made ‘statements’ to her that ‘he has been improving’ or that ‘he has improved’?”

Gursten said Griffin’s examination of his client had been recorded, and when Gursten pressed Griffin for details, she said the client’s statements about improving were “not a quote.”

Griffin did not immediately respond to a voice mail message seeking comment. Alan Gershel, the grievance administrator for the Attorney Grievance Commission, said Michigan court rules prevent him from commenting on matters that may be pending.

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