21:10, August 02 426 0 law.com

2017-08-02 21:10:05
ACLU Brief Backing HBO Satirist John Oliver Mocks Coal Magnate's Defamation Suit
HBO’s John Oliver with Robert Murray (inset)

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed an amicus brief in support of John Oliver, HBO and Time Warner, all of whom have been targeted in a defamation lawsuit filed by coal mogul Robert Murray over comments made on the comedian’s “Last Week Tonight” late-night TV show.

If the intent of the filing was to suggest the suit was ridiculous, consider that box checked.

The ACLU’s brief, filed Tuesday in the circuit court of Marshall County, West Virginia, doesn’t pull any punches — or punch lines — in asking the court to dismiss the suit and reject the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction preventing Oliver from engaging in further episodes of what Murray claims is “ruthless character assassination.”

“This suit is beyond meritless. It is offensive to the very ideals of free speech embodied in the First Amendment,” it reads. “The fact that plaintiffs filed this case is ridiculous enough; but to pour gasoline on the fire, plaintiffs’ counsel has also filed a motion asking the court to make John Oliver not say mean things about him anymore.”

The coal mogul sued days after Oliver devoted most of his June 18 show to the coal industry, which the satirist contended President Donald Trump has exploited for political gain. Murray, who is the chief executive of Murray Energy Corp., was singled out for mockery and described as looking “like a geriatric Dr. Evil,” a reference to the balding villain in the “Austin Powers” movies.

Oliver also said on his program that Murray mistreated his employees and was responsible for a 2007 mine collapse in which nine were killed.

The satirist also spoofed the CEO’s claims about his inspiration for owning a coal mine with an actor in a squirrel costume handing Murray a giant check with the words “Eat Shit, Bob” inscribed.

The comedian, referring to the advice of his lawyers, has steered clear of commenting on the suit on subsequent shows. But the brief, filed by Jamie Lynn Crofts of the ACLU of West Virginia, skewers the staunchly conservative Murray with a style and wit that would do the British comic proud. But it is all in the service of making a serious point.

“Although this brief pokes fun at the absurdity of this case, the legal issues raised by it are anything but comical. This lawsuit, and the plaintiffs’ frequent attempts to use our legal system to chill speech, threaten the fundamental right of the media to criticize public figures and speak candidly on matters of public concern,” it said.

The filing also calls it “frankly shocking that the plaintiffs were able to find attorneys willing to file a lawsuit that is so clearly unconstitutional.”

For the record, the plaintiffs’ attorneys are David L. Delk Jr. and Jeffrey A. Grove of Grove & Delk, Clayton A. Fitzsimmons and Robert P. Fitzsimmons of Fitzsimmons Law Firm, and Holly Suzanne Planinsic of Herndon, Morton, Herndon & Yaeger. All are based in Wheeling, West Virginia. Calls seeking comment were not immediately returned.

Time will tell if U.S. District Judge John P. Bailey of the Northern District of West Virginia finds the brief amusing. Regardless, legal industry aficionados of a well-crafted filing will find this one a fun summer beach read.