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Retraction in Defamation Cases

One of the legal principles that is most familiar to the American public is that of defamation of character. Popularized through television, movies and some of the most sensational news stories covering legal events, libel and slander cases hold the fascination of the public. One major element to defamation cases is the doctrine of retraction.

What is Retraction?

Retraction is simply the “taking back” of what you have said about someone else. This happens frequently in newspapers, where the editor admits an error and retracts the statement. Frequently, this retraction is topped off by some sort of statement like “the post regrets the error.” Why did they do this?

These sorts of retractions are often done for journalistic integrity, but more importantly they are done to avoid libel suits. A libel suit is a suit for written defamation as opposed to slander which is spoken defamation. When a newspaper, a blog or any other written outlet believes they may be sued, one way they can “mitigate the damages” is by publishing a retraction. In the old days, it was required that someone who wanted to sue over defamation had to send a demand for retraction before instituting suit. This is no longer the case in Pennsylvania, but demanding retraction still makes sense, even for the plaintiff.

Why Demand a Retraction?

The main reason is that a demand for a retraction, if ignored or refused, helps to prove one of the hardest elements of a defamation case — the malice of the speaker. A defamation case requires proving more than that a person said something false.

It requires proof that:

  • The statement was false
  • It is damaging to one’s character
  • It was intentional

Accordingly, sending a demand for retraction is a way of eliminating a writer’s claim that they were mistaken about the facts that they reported, rather than intentionally lying. 

Surprisingly, this approach can still work even in the day of modern publishers when many of the individuals that someone might be wishing to pursue for defamation are either private parties or small-time publishers. A demand for a retraction provides an opportunity to frame the issue clearly before it is brought into court. And of course, in the event that they agree to retract, in many cases, the damage can be mitigated or undone.

If you believe you have been defamed by someone else or you have been accused of defamation, contact Cornerstone Law Firm so we can help you to figure out your next steps.

Time, Place and Manner Restrictions on the First Amendment

In previous posts, we have discussed the importance of the First Amendment. We have also discussed that speech is not always just speech — it can also be conduct. Today, we are going to talk about legitimate government restrictions on the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. One such restriction established in case law decided by the Supreme Court of the United States is restrictions on time, place and manner of speech.

What is a “Time, Place & Manner” Restriction?

Time, place and manner restrictions include regulations of when, where and how someone speaks. For example, a school may tell its students that they may not discuss politics during class. A state court may require that no one say anything at all in a court room unless they are an attorney or a witness on the stand. Some government buildings prohibit any sort of protest or speech within the buildings themselves, allowing the government workers to work unimpeded by any sort of disruptions around them. (For example, you can’t march into Fort Knox and demand the right to protest.) These are all examples of time, place and manner restrictions. 

There are a few requirements to sustain a time, place and manner restriction in court. If challenged, the government entity must be able to show that these restrictions are “narrowly tailored” to achieve a “significant governmental interest.” For example, the school district that says that its students may not engage in any political speech at all during the entire school day, whether in or out of classes because it is worried about distractions in the classroom, is probably guilty of an overboard restriction that would not be sustained by a court. The goal of a good education may be a significant government interest, but there are less restrict ways to achieve that goal. The school might be able to require that students not talk while in certain types of classes that have nothing to do with politics, for example, while leaving them free to discuss their views throughout the rest of the day. 

“Content Neutral” Restrictions

restrictions to the first amendment

Another important point is that a restriction must be applied equally across the board and must be “content neutral.” In other words, a school that says that students may not talk about religion during specific classes but allows discussion of any other sort of philosophy or politics is violating the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

Similarly, if a courtroom was to say that no one can protest out in front of the court, but then allows specific demonstrations for increased government salaries inside, this would be an example of discrimination against speech based on content. In these cases, the supposed time, place and manner restriction is just an illegal attempt by the government to restrict speech that it does not find appealing. 

What Do You Do if Your Rights are Violated?

What do you do if your rights are violated by a time, place, and manner restriction? There are various types of civil rights lawsuits available to you. Figuring out whether a time, place and manner restriction is an appropriate restriction of speech is a complicated process and requires careful analysis of the challenged regulation, the case law that has been decided on these topics, and sometimes even what you desire to say. In future blog posts on this topic, we are going to cover other restrictions on the First Amendment that the government may pass.

If you’re dealing with an infringement on your First Amendment rights, call us today to discuss your case.

Harassment Charges in Berks County Dismissed – March 2020

Last month, Attorney Joel Ready obtained dismissal of harassment charges in Berks County. The charges had been filed against a defendant over an alleged dispute with an ex-girlfriend. After oral argument in front of a Berks County Magisterial District Judge, the charges were dropped completely. The charges were filed in the Bernville area “upon information received” by a State Trooper, which means that the Trooper was filing the charges based on what the alleged victim told him. 

“We’re glad to see these charges dismissed,” Attorney Ready says. “This case shows, once again, the importance of being prepared to fight charges and not merely plead guilty to avoid the trouble of litigation.” 

More About Harassment Charges

Harassment is a summary offense under Pennsylvania Law, which means that it comes with a fine and potential confinement up to ninety (90) days in prison. In some circumstances, harassment charges can also result in higher penalties, including a misdemeanor conviction. Harassment requires that the Commonwealth prove that the defendant either physically assaulted or repeatedly annoyed someone with no legitimate purpose.

Harassment charges do go on your permanent record, although, if they are a summary offense it is not considered a “criminal record.” Nonetheless, potential employers, family members, friends, neighbors and others can find that you were found guilty of these charges if you plead guilty to them.

Contact Us Today

It is important to speak with an experienced criminal offense attorney about harassment charges so the attorney can help you decide whether you should challenge the charges or not. Contact Cornerstone Law Firm today for more information.

Criminal Trial Attorneys in Berks County

If you are facing criminal charges in Berks County, Pennsylvania, you will find yourself facing several very important questions as you strategize how to handle your case. The chief among all these questions is whether you should go forward to a trial on your charges or accept a plea deal. If you decide to go to trial, finding a good trial attorney will be vital.

Why a Trial Lawyer is Important

At Cornerstone Law Firm, our attorneys have experience at all stages of trial work and stand ready and willing to take your case all the way to trial. Whether to go to trial on criminal charges is an important and personal decision and depends on many factors. Getting good advice on whether you should go forward to trial rather than taking a deal that has been offered is an important part of this process.

A good trial attorney is willing to cross-examine the government’s witnesses, will effectively present your case in a way that is understandable to the jury, and can help you make the all-important decision on whether to testify or not. At Cornerstone Law Firm, our attorneys can help you with these questions. 

Contact Cornerstone Law Firm

Whether you are in the midst of criminal charges or are at the beginning of a criminal case, we welcome your call to discuss your charges. Your first consultation with us is free and totally confidential. Call us today and see how we can help you.

Attorney Crossett Represents Mail Carrier in Religious Liberty Case

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we believe the First Amendment defends each individual’s right to live freely according to their deeply held conscience and faith.

In a recent religious liberty case, Attorney David Crossett represented a Lancaster County mail carrier, Gerald Groff. Mr. Groff’s rights were violated when the USPS failed to accommodate his religious beliefs regarding working on Sundays.

In a recent news release, Attorney Crossett said:

“In a free and respectful society, government should recognize those differences among us that make us great, rather than punishing those differences, particularly when those differences result from our sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Read the full news release here.

To read more about the religious freedom case, we encourage you to take a look at recent news coverage:

If your religious liberties have been violated, we encourage you to call us today to discuss your case.

News Release: Christian Mail Carrier Discharged for Not Delivering Packages on Sunday Asks Federal Court for Judgment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 17, 2020
For interview requests or questions, contact: Dan Bartkowiak
717-657-4990, dbart@indlawcenter.org

(LANCASTER, PA – February 17, 2020) On Friday, February 14, a United States Postal Service (USPS) mailman filed a Motion for Summary Judgement before a federal district judge asking the court to find that the USPS violated his rights when it failed to accommodate his religious beliefs regarding work on Sundays. 

Gerald Groff has been a mailman in Lancaster County for almost seven years. One Post Office supervisor called Mr. Groff his best employee. Another Post Office supervisor said that Mr. Groff had the best quality of work of anyone he had met in the USPS.

When he was hired, Sunday work was never required for Mr. Groff’s position.  Several years later, the USPS started parcel delivery on Sundays. For a time, the Post Office and Mr. Groff worked flexibly together to accommodate his religious convictions of not working on Sundays. Mr. Groff simply picked up holiday, evening, and Saturday hours others did not want to work. 

Later, USPS began enforcing a no-exceptions Sunday policy on Mr. Groff and needlessly disciplined him. This resulted in him being constructively discharged from the job he loved.

“In a free and respectful society, government should recognize those differences among us that make us great, rather than punishing those differences, particularly when those differences result from our sincerely held religious beliefs,” said David Crossett, a partner at the Cornerstone Law Firm, LLC, one of the attorneys representing Mr. Groff.

“Just as the Supreme Court recognized in a case involving the right of a Muslim worker to wear a head scarf at a clothing store, a government employer like the Post Office should reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs. The Post Office had plenty of other options for delivering Amazon packages on Sundays without making this employee violate his religious conscience,” said Randall Wenger, Chief Counsel of the Independence Law Center. “In a free society, government employers can and should do better at respecting their employees’ rights.”

The case, Groff v. Brennan, is filed before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

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Trial Attorney in Snyder County, Pennsylvania

If you’ve been charged with a crime in Snyder County, Pennsylvania, it’s important that you have aggressive legal representation. Criminal charges can change your life, and having an attorney prepared to take you to trial, if necessary, is a vital part of a strong defense.

Why a Trial Lawyer is Important

Not every attorney or law firm is willing to take cases to trial. Some attorneys practice only in achieving plea deals or attempting to work out a case with a prosecutor. While there’s a time and a place for that art, there are also times when only a trial lawyer can help you with your case. At Cornerstone Law Firm, our criminal trial attorneys are able to help you with every phase of the process.

An attorney’s trial practice skills include giving effective opening and closing statements, excellent cross-examination, and wisdom about which witnesses to call on your behalf. A good trial lawyer will also know how to help you investigate your claim in advance of trial so that you are well prepared to present your case.

In Snyder County, individuals facing criminal charges often find that they are faced with the difficult choice of choosing between a plea deal they don’t like or facing a judge or jury at trial. Making this decision is easier when you have a trial attorney by your side to help you evaluate your chance.

Contact Cornerstone Law Firm

Not every attorney handles trial practice, so finding an attorney willing to take your case the distance is important. At Cornerstone Law Firm, we’re willing to be with you from opening statements until the jury verdict comes in, and to counsel you ever step of the way.

Call today to discuss your case with our trial attorneys and see if we can help you make your case.

“I’ve been Charged with a Crime in Union County. What Now?”

If you’ve been charged with a crime in Union County, Pennsylvania and you’re wondering what happens next in the process, you’ve come to the right place. The responsibility of filing charges in Union County, Pennsylvania falls to local police departments as well as the Pennsylvania State Police who have jurisdiction to file charges. But ultimately the responsibility of proceeding with those charges belongs to the District Attorney for Union County, Pete Johnson.

Here’s the process that you will encounter if you’ve been charged with a crime.

Preliminary Arraignment and Preliminary Hearing

union county court

We’ve written before about preliminary arraignments and preliminary hearings in criminal cases. Union County’s process is not different in that the preliminary arraignment and preliminary hearing are the defendant’s first opportunity to hear the charges against him or her and to hear the evidence that the Commonwealth has to prove the crime.

The bar for the Commonwealth to prove their case in a preliminary hearing is very low. The Commonwealth need only prove that they have probable cause for bringing the charges. If they’re able to prove that, then the charges move forward to more serious stages of criminal litigation.

Omnibus Pretrial Motion

Assuming the Commonwealth is able to meet its burden and move past the preliminary hearing, the next stage in the process is for the defendant if they wish to request discovery and file an omnibus pretrial motion. This motion allows the defendant to challenge the charges against them and to have them assessed at a much higher standard that is construed against the Commonwealth.

If the Commonwealth will be unable to meet its burden, the charges will be dismissed. Omnibus pretrial motions are a unique opportunity for criminal defendants to bring a motion to suppress evidence or to bring a habeas corpus motion to have the charges dismissed entirely.

Disposition and Trial

Most cases in Union County, Pennsylvania are resolved at a disposition hearing long before trial. This is an opportunity to reach a plea agreement with the Commonwealth, enter into a diversionary program such as ARD (accelerated rehabilitative disposition) or to reach some other arrangement. Disposition hearings are typically where an experienced attorney will have worked out the best deal possible for a client.

However, many criminal defendants don’t wish to plead guilty. They want to go forward to trial. This might be because the deal offered is not very good or because they believe that in principle they are right and shouldn’t have to agree to some sort of deal. In this case, it is absolutely vital to have an experienced criminal defense attorney who is able to go forward to trial and handle the charges by aggressively challenging the Commonwealth’s case.

Conclusion

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we help criminal defendants in Union County to defend against criminal charges by defending them at all stages in the litigation process, including at trial. Call us today to discuss your charges and to have a free consultation on what we can do for you.

Oley Valley Students Settle First Amendment Lawsuit

Every American has the right to free speech under the First Amendment. That’s why Cornerstone Law Firm is glad to announce that our clients, three students in the Oley Valley School District, have had their voices heard in their recently settled lawsuit.

We worked with the students to bring a lawsuit against Oley Valley School District for violating their First Amendment rights. The case has now settled for $5,000 for the students plus attorneys’ fees and expungement of the discipline resulting from their school board speech.

Oley Valley School District students (from left to right) Vinny Ferrizzi, Haley Hartline and Jordan Eck practicing their First Amendment rights

What Happened

Jordan Eck, Haley Hartline and Vinny Ferrizzi were disciplined for speaking at a school board meeting last March, where they expressed concerns about the way the drama program was being run. Within 24 hours of speaking to the school board, two of the students were suspended and removed from the school play, and less than two weeks later, the third was removed from school property in front of his classmates. Various excuses for this retaliation were offered throughout the lawsuit, but upon production of surveillance footage demonstrating the pretextual nature of these excuses, the parties finally agreed to settle.

The monetary settlement reimburses the students’ families for the expense of litigation and will be paid by the school district’s insurance carrier. The settlement also includes compensation for Jordan for the defamation of his character by the drama program director in a series of emails to the parents of other students in the drama program, as well as others in the community. All three students will receive compensation from the district’s insurance carrier for the violation of their rights to free speech.

What They Have to Say

The students expressed their relief that the case is over. “This is a victory for our First Amendment rights, and for the rights of other students to speak freely without fear of retribution,” said Eck after the settlement was reached.

“It shouldn’t have taken a federal lawsuit to force the School District to respect our right to speak,” said Hartline.

Ferrizzi agrees: “We wanted an apology, but it’s clear that this will have to do. This is vindication.”

“The First Amendment was written to protect us; but sometimes, we have to protect the First Amendment,” said Cornerstone Law Firm’s Joel Ready, the students’ attorney. “When government officials, however major or minor, seek to punish citizens for their speech, it is imperative that we stand up against that.”

Attorney Ready believes the lawsuit has bigger implications beyond these three students, and beyond Oley Valley:

“This case would have created a chilling effect on other students right to speak up, and I hope the message is loud and clear: as a student, you’re allowed to respectfully express your opinion to those in power, even if your opinion is unpopular.”

How it Started

The case began when Cornerstone Law Firm reached out to the School Board on behalf of the students, demanding that their discipline be expunged. The School Board refused reverse the punishments, necessitating rising costs, and ultimately, this settlement. Attorney Ready says he expects this case will have a positive impact on the School District:

“My clients hope this will cause the Oley Valley School Board to take definite steps to train their employees about protecting students’ rights. The Supreme Court says that students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gates. That is especially true when students speak to school board members—their elected representatives.”

Various messages of both support and opposition have been received on social media by the students, but Eck explains, “From the beginning, we understood that was part of it. We just want every student to be able to speak freely, just like we did.” Ready agrees.

“I’m proud of these three students,” he said. “They’ve shown courage in the community, sometimes in the face of misinformation intentionally spread about them. They’ve shown Oley Valley how important free speech really is.” The Court issued a “Rule 41 Order” last week, and the students and district signed a final agreement today.

Student Statement Posted on Social Media Today

The three students released posts on social media today. The post is as follows:

“We were each disciplined by OVSD last year after we spoke at a school board meeting and expressed concerns about the individual overseeing the drama program. While anyone has a right to agree or disagree with what we said, no one had a right to blast out an email to the community defaming Jordan, claiming he “posted something against another student” such that the “police were called in” to deal with him. No one had a right to suspend Jordan and Haley and remove them from the school show for their speeches that night, and no one had a right to have Vinny escorted off of school property in front of our classmates. These actions were hurtful, and were done to retaliate against us for speaking an unpopular opinion to our elected officials.

As of this week, our disciplinary records related to this incident will be expunged, Jordan will be retroactively restored to his role as drama club President, and we will receive $100,000, which will be paid by the school district’s insurance carrier—not by taxpayers. Most of this is merely to reimburse us the cost of bringing a federal suit. A nominal amount will pay for Jordan’s defamation claim, and all three of us will receive a small amount for the violation of our right to free speech.

The expense and stress of this lawsuit should have been unnecessary. Last March, Joel Ready, our attorney at Cornerstone Law Firm, sent a letter to the School District demanding that this matter be resolved by expunging discipline related to this incident, and that a small amount be paid to cover the attorneys’ fees we had incurred up till then. The School District preferred to fight about this instead, and finally was forced to settle on the eve of trial.

It’s really important to the three of us that all of our classmates hear this message loud and clear: no one can silence you just because you are a student. You’re a citizen of the United States, and when you speak as we did—calmly, respectfully, in the forum set up for public comment—the government and its officials do not have the right to retaliate against you.

We hope this case will give other students courage to speak up for themselves, and to speak against what they see as wrong. We’re grateful for those of you who have supported us along the way, and to those of you who haven’t, we hope you’ll keep all of this in consideration with an open mind and continue to dialogue with us. That’s what the First Amendment is all about.”

Contact Us

If you’re dealing with an infringement on your First Amendment rights, call us today to discuss your case.