PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Lawyers who offer to help reporters by sending them copies of court documents by fax or e-mail do so at the peril of losing their immunity to defamation suits, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled.
Under a long-recognized doctrine called “judicial privilege,” attorneys who file lawsuits — even frivolous or malicious ones — are protected from being sued for slander or libel over the accusations they make in court.
The idea is that lawyers need to be free to litigate vigorously, without fear they will themselves be sued for defamation if their case ultimately is rejected. But in an October 20 decision, the state Supreme Court said that those protections largely evaporate once an attorney steps outside a courthouse.
The ruling involved attorney Kevin W. Gibson, who faxed a copy of a legal malpractice lawsuit to a reporter for The Legal Intelligencer, a newspaper that covers legal affairs in Philadelphia.
The defendant in the case sued, claiming the allegations in the suit were false, and that Gibson opened himself up to a libel claim by providing a copy of it to a reporter.