Posts Tagged “First Amendment”

Oprah Winfrey and famed lawyer Chip Babcock

Just six days before the defamation case brought against Oprah Winfrey by Lerato Nomvuyo Mzamane was set for trial in Philadelphia the two women settled the suit “peacefully”. Mzamane was headmistress of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa in 2007, when the sexual abuse allegations made it into main stream media. Allegations in October 2007 that a dormitory matron in the South African school sexually assaulted six girls ended in a news conference by Winfrey in which she stated “she was going to clean house from top to bottom and had no confidence in Mzamaine”.

In October 2007, dorm matron Virginia “Tiny” Makopo was charged with 13 counts of indecent assault, assault, and criminal injury. Her alleged victims included six girls, ages 13 to 15, and a 23-year-old co-worker.

The defamation suit was filed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania because Mzamane has a home there. She was an administrator at Germantown Friends School before Winfrey recruited her for the South African school, which opened in January 2007.

Charles “Chip” Babcock Winfrey’s long time personal attorney had stated in Court on March 19 that students from the school are being flown to Philadelphia for the trial. Babcock said he might ask the judge to allow two students, now 14 and 15, testify at a private hearing that would then be shown to jurors later via a video recording. In South Africa, minors typically do not testify in open court, Babcock said. “We’re going to see how the kids get acclimated here” and the reaction of their parents, he said before we go further with this.

U.S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno had told lawyers for Winfrey and Lerato Nomvuyo Mzamane, that he would be setting aside two extra courtrooms to handle the over flow of media expected to cover the high profile trial at the pretrial conference on March 19. Judge Robreno stated that a live video stream would be fed into those two additional courtrooms to accommodate the amount of media expected.

Oprah Winfrey was set to take the stand at the trial. Oprah was expected to defend her statements on the basis of free speech. Charles “Chip” Babcock together with wife Nancy Hamilton, an attorney also with Jackson Walker, are considered one of the best first amendment litigation teams in the U. S.

Mzamane claims that Oprah’s statements about no confidence in the head mistress and that Oprah was cleaning house at the school to see that the girls were watched after were defamatory and have since made it difficult for her to find employment.

The Court had dismissed the false light claim and claims for exemplary damages before March 19, it appears that the only other issue that a jury would decide would be the amount of salary that Mzamane had lost from 2007 because her suit claimed that the scandal had prevented her from gaining other employment.

Mzamane, a former administrator at a Philadelphia prep school and a popular local educator in the Philadelphia area was seeking $250,000 in damages, saying that she has not been able to find work since the firing. The relatively small amount of the damage claim indicates the trial is stacking up as a bitter courtroom confrontation — with neither side appeared to be willing to settle out of court.

Following a meeting yesterday, March 23, 2010, without any of their lawyers present both women issued a joint statement that said; “The two parties met woman to woman without their lawyers and are happy that they could resolve this dispute peacefully to their mutual satisfaction. Ms. Winfrey testified in her deposition that she did not intend the implications placed on her words by the plaintiff. Ms. Mzamane testified in her deposition that she has no evidence that Ms. Winfrey knowingly made a false statement about her or entertained serious doubt about the truth of what she said. We are pleased both parties have reached a conclusion.”

The statement was attributed to Charles L. “Chip” Babcock and Nancy W. Hamilton, attorneys for Winfrey, and Timothy McGowan and Matthew Reber, attorneys for Lerato Nomvuyo Mzamane.

You might remember that Charles “Chip” Babcock represented Winfrey in a six weeks trial in 1996 in the panhandle of Texas when cattle ranchers sued Winfrey for defamation when she made a statement on her popular day time show about “mad cow disease”. It was during that trial that Babcock introduced Winfrey to his jury consultant, Phil McGraw, who later became known as Dr. Phil and now has a show produced by Winfrey’s production company of Harpo Productions Inc.

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©Rose Turner
March 24, 2010
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Daniel DiCriscio St. Jude’s Children Hospital Charity Celebrity Fashion Show December 2008

Daniel DiCriscio and Perez Hilton (Mario Lavandeira) at St. Jude’s Children Hospitals Charity Celebrity Fashion Show Dec 2008, Daniel DiCriscio was a celebrity model, hence the get up and makeup! A fun night and all proceeds went to the children of St. Jude’s Hospitals.

Ok back to the seriousness of the article: First Amendment? Freedom of Speech? I don’t know about that!

I am sure a lot of the world caught the Miss USA debacle between Carrie Prejean and Perez Hilton, real name Mario Lavandeira, last (give me a date here). The issue: gay marriage v. Christian values? I don’t know if that is exactly what that was all about, but I was holding back from writing about this but I have a question? “Are we being bullied by Perez Hilton’s own beliefs?” Or… I am quite shocked at why, first of all, Perez was chosen as a judge for the Miss USA pageant? He writes a Celebrity Gossip Site, no? Donald Trump…what is up with that? Not only did this Miss USA pageant pull the lowest ratings ever, it now makes me sad to see that the pageant has turned “political”. It use to be fun, to watch and fantasize, but now it isn’t that much fun.

I thought that Carrie Prejean answered Perez’s question with dignity and honesty and kept her, some would call, “archaic” values but hey, those are her values! And she even prefaced her answer with “Not to offend anyone” and she did it all with a smile. I guess Carrie isn’t allowed to speak her mind. I thought that in the USA we have the First Amendment, Freedom of Speech? I am not saying at all that I am a Carrie supporter or a Perez supporter, but I feel Perez snuck in a “firecracker” question. Yes, gay marriage should be discussed, but remember, you can’t please everybody. We don’t need mass “brainwashing” on this subject, just education and information. We can’t change the world overnight and alienate and intimidate just for a cause. That is unethical, and unfair. I thought this country had progressed more than this. Why should she be afraid to say she is for gay marriage or not? She can say whatever she wants. This is the United States of America! Land of the Free, etc. etc.!

What I saw happen between Perez and Carrie reminded of a high school “bully” picking on another student. Then to have Perez go and call her a “stupid bitch”, was classless and made him less credible, to me. I heard he apologized to her and asked her to go have coffee that is lame. Day late and a dollar short Perez. I guess the shocker is that Perez asked a “Christian girl” a gay marriage question, “woohoo” Perez!

I even saw on Bill O’Reilly’s show a gay advocate say he wouldn’t be friends with someone who didn’t back gay marriage, and Bill cornered the gay advocate guest and had the guy in a tizzy, discussing the Miss USA debacle.

We don’t want war overseas but it seems the war is here in this country: Gay v Straight! I myself don’t feel that this is what we need to happen. Who is to say what is right and wrong? Definitely not me, nor anyone else.

I know you have to fight sometimes for what is right, but big changes take time. Marriage is for 2 people, no matter what, who want to spend their lives together and love one another, etc. Didn’t Obama say almost the same thing she did? I just hope that we can think and say the way we feel without a war breaking out in our own country. Not over this!

For those of you who missed the debacle here is the question by Perez!

And then his response after the firestorm!

“I would like to hear what you “the readers” think?”

©Daniel DiCriscio
April 23, 2009
Daniel DiCriscio is a feature writer for Rose Speaks.com.
Used with permission of Daniel DiCriscio. Visit Daniel’s My Space Page to see more videos and learn more about Daniel.
All Rights Reserved, do not reproduce in whole or in part without the express written consent of the author.

The expressions in this article are based on the opinions of our feature writer, Daniel DiCriscio, This article is the sole property of Daniel DiCriscio and Rose Speaks unless otherwise stated. Please remember we are not lawyers and those opinions expressed here are each of our individual opinions and should not be taken as legal advice and/or legal opinions. The comments following this article are the opinions and sole property of the site members and do not necessarily reflect those of the site owners.

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