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Q: Slander in California involving Public Employee ( Answered,   0 Comments )
Subject: Slander in California involving Public Employee
Category: Relationships and Society > Law
Asked by: ethanseven-ga
List Price: $35.00
Posted: 10 May 2006 10:10 PDT
Expires: 09 Jun 2006 10:10 PDT
Question ID: 727317
Thank you for assistance.  I am a school district board member.  A
teacher in a school may or may not have involved me in slander.  I
call this person Teacher A.  At Teacher A's house, Teacher A put on a
non-school event where a collegue, Teacher B, was accosted by Teacher
A's adult sibling, and the collegue appeared to eventually consent to
brief "intimate" relations.  The only witness put blame primarily on
the sibling.  I was visited by Teacher A soon after, who told me in
private that the sibling was not to blame, and told me details of
Teacher B's inimate personal life to exonerate him.  Teacher A claimed
Teacher B had disclosed these personal life details privately to
Teacher A the previous year.  These personal life details suggested
Teacher B was "unchaste", one criteria for slander.  I do not know if
they were true.  I have reason to suspect that Teacher A told parents
this information, in private, because rumors circulated soon after,
eventually causing Teacher B to find employment in another
district.......My specific questions follow.  1. Must a slander suit
be brought by the victim?  In this case, the victim wants to put the
situation behind them.  However, Teacher A remains a threat to the
district. Can the audience of a slanderous statement bring suit,
rather than the victim?  2. Must the alleged slander statement be
proven true? Please be careful about this answer, as the evidence
basis of libel and slander differ, as well as the transmission basis.
Since Teacher B does not want publicity, I do not think we can prove
falsehood. I thank you for your assistance.
Subject: Re: Slander in California involving Public Employee
Answered By: hagan-ga on 11 May 2006 13:11 PDT
Hello, ethansteven.  I'm sorry for the unfortunate situation your
district finds itself in, but I'm afraid that only the victim, and not
the audience, of a defamatory statement can bring suit.

The Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) is a
handy reference for the elements of most civil lawsuits.  They are
available on the Web at
(The "elements" of a lawsuit are the individual items that must be
proven before the plaintiff can recover damages.)  CACI 1700 through
1723 discuss the elements of defamation claims; specifically, CACI
1704 governs your situation, defamation per se involving a private
figure.  In all defamation claims, however, one element is the same: 
the plaintiff (the one who brings the lawsuit) must prove that the
defamatory statements were ABOUT THE PLAINTIFF, and not about somebody

This makes sense in light of the scheme of damages available for
defamation:  compensation for harm to reputation, harm to business or
property, and shame or mortification.

As to the truth or falsity of the communication, it is NOT the
plaintiff's burden to establish falsity.  It IS, however, the
plaintiff's burden to establish that the defendant failed to use
reasonable care to determine the truth or falsity of his remarks.  See
CACI 1704.

Thank you for the interesting question, and please don't hesitate to
ask if you require any clarification.

Request for Answer Clarification by ethanseven-ga on 11 May 2006 14:31 PDT
Can Teacher B, the presumed victim, bring a charge of slander against
Teacher A based on my testimony of what Teacher B privately told me?

Request for Answer Clarification by ethanseven-ga on 11 May 2006 14:32 PDT
CORRECTION - I meant Can Teacher B, the presumed victim, bring a
charge of slander against Teacher A based on my testimony of what
TEACHER A privately told me?

Clarification of Answer by hagan-ga on 12 May 2006 06:38 PDT
Ethansteven:  Absolutely, but whether or not Teacher B would succeed
in such a lawsuit would depend on whether Teacher A was telling the
truth about where Teacher A got his information.  Let me explain.

Your original scenario described Teacher A telling you private details
of Teacher B's life that he claimed to have received from Teacher B. 
There are several possibilities:

--Teacher A was telling you the truth about where he heard these
details, AND he was accurately reporting what he heard, AND what he
heard was actually true.  In that instance, no slander occurred,
because everything Teacher A said was a true statement.  Truth is an
absolute defense to slander.

--Teacher A was telling you the truth about where he heard the story,
AND he was accurately reporting what he heard from Teacher B, BUT --
the story was untrue, because Teacher B had told an untrue story to
Teacher A in the first place.  Teacher B would lose his lawsuit,
because Teacher A was not negligent in determining whether the story
was true or false.  It was not unreasonable for Teacher A to believe
that what Teacher B told him was true.  If Teacher B did not want the
story to get around, it was Teacher B's responsibility not to tell it
in the first place.

--Teacher A was telling you the truth about where he heard the story,
BUT -- he was not accurately reporting what he heard from Teacher B. 
In other words, as in a game of "telephone," he either misremembered
or actively embellished the story.  If Teacher A's version included
defamatory details that did not appear in Teacher B's version, I think
there's a good case for defamation there.  For example, if Teacher B
had said only, "I'm attracted to Person X and I wish I could sleep
with her," and Teacher A had embellished that to something like,
"Teacher B told me that he slept with Person X," then Teacher A has
defamed Teacher B.  Teacher A has made an untrue statement that
imputes unchastity and has damaged Teacher B's reputation.

--Of course, if Teacher A was making up the whole thing, including
where he got the story, then the defamation case is easy.  And your
testimony is what establishes the fact of publication.

Note that your testimony is NOT HEARSAY.  Hearsay is when second-hand
testimony is introduced to establish "the truth of the matter stated."
 So Fred tells George that he slept with Lisa, and George repeats to
David that Fred says that he slept with Lisa.  Now:  Who can testify
to what?  It depends on what you're trying to establish.  Are you
trying to establish that Fred, in fact, did sleep with Lisa?  THen
only Fred and Lisa can testify to it -- if George tries to testify
that Fred must have slept with Lisa because Fred said so, then George
is introducing Fred's statement as proof that what Fred said was true.

BUT!  If what you're trying to establish is that FRED SAID that he
slept with Lisa, (say if Lisa was suing Fred for defamation, so the
statement itself is the relevant "act"), then George's testimony comes
in, because George was a witness to the act of making the statement. 
George isn't testifying that the statement was true, he's just
testifying that the statement was MADE.

But David's testimony is still hearsay, if David tries to testify
"George told me that Fred told him that Fred slept with Lisa."  
Because now you're using David to introduce George's statement, in
order to prove that George heard Fred.  David doesn't know whether
George heard Fred or not, because he wasn't there.

And it doesn't matter that Teacher A "privately" told you this.  A
"private" publication to a third party is still a publication.

I hope this has been helpful.  Hearsay issues are complicated and
difficult even for seasoned lawyers, so if you need any further
clarification, please don't hesitate to ask.
There are no comments at this time.

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