Every day we are bombarded with news stories of accusations against public figures of wrongdoing that happened decades ago. The #MeToo Movement publishes accounts of assault, misconduct, and inappropriate behavior daily against public figures who are generally forced to resign or are fired. The Statute of Limitations are public statutesd that prevent people from suing for events years after the fact for good reason. Peoples’ memory changes, evidence disappears, and life needs certainty even though arguable people can get away with behavior which should be actionable.
You don’t have to look further than President Trump to see this phenomenon play out. I have lost count of the number of women who have come out to accuse Trump of decades old sexual inappropriateness. The same is happening to media types Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and now Tom Brokaw not to mention politicians galore. Politicians are being hoisted beside their own petard and even the mighty Al Franken was crucified for sophomoric behavior. It seems that people are not looking to the legal system for justice, they would rather go to the court of public opinion.
The notions of legal justice seem to be turned upside down. Look at the matter of Stormy Daniels, who signed a non-disclosure agreement benefitting Trump and accepted $130,000 in payment from Michael Cohen. Now you can’t turn on the TV or your computer without seeing her or her attorney trying her case to the public jury. General principles of contract law are no longer applicable. People are far more interested in publicity than justice. This is unfortunate for the accused because they will never get justice. They will suffer the effects of the publicity whether they are innocent or not. In a legal system which would rather let 100 guilty defendants go free rather than convict one innocent defendant, the Court of Public Opinion convicts everyone, innocent or guilty.
I look at what happened to Ronnie Jackson who just withdrew as a candidate for the head of the Veterans Administration. He had an exemplary record and was praised by both Democrat and Republican Presidents. He was accused of overprescribing pain medication, all though his prescription records lack any evidence of that. He was accused of getting drunk and wrecking a government vehicle, even though there was no record of that. But it didn’t matter, the Court of Public Opinion convicted him anyway and he withdrew his nomination.
In England, defamation laws are much stricter against the defamer than in the United States. Anti-Slapp statutes make it virtually impossible to recover against defendants who slander and libel public figures. Ironically, public figures who deny allegations of wrongdoing are now being sued for defamation because of the implication that the accuser is a liar. Bad facts make bad law, but something needs to be done to protect people who are unfairly convicted in the Court of Public Opinion.