Libel, Lawsuits and Free Speech

Russell Armstrong sent an email to Camille Grammer in the wee hours of one morning last summer.  I don’t know the exact wording but I imagine that the gist of it was: Dear Mrs. Grammer,  Shut up or I will sue you.  Sincerely, Russell Armstrong.  This email was one of what we now know were many that resonated from Beverly Hills to NBC headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York.

This wasn’t the only time we had seen Russell use threats of legal action to silence the other families on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.  While hosting a dinner at his home, with his wife,  he brought out a copy of US magazine with an article about the rumored breakup of his marriage.  He tried to find out the source of that article from his dinner guests, Kyle and Mauricio Umansky.  He then inferred that he believed the source to be Lisa VanderPump,  as she had a friendship with the editor of the magazine.  He then went on to tell everyone at the table that his litigators would get the editor to reveal the source.

I think that Russell had used the ploy of lawsuits on occasions in the past, with some success, probably.  Lawyers use similar types of correspondence which are sometimes referred to as “lawyer letters”.  In effect, it is a request for compliance by the offending party – a sort of “do the right thing” message.  Those letters are worded in such a way so that the inference of a lawsuit could be drawn by the recipient, but is never actually stated.  Sometimes they work, sometimes they require more work.  As for Russell’s message – well, it certainly worked with the ladies and gentlemen of Beverly Hills.  They all shut their mouths faster than the back door of Taylor’s and Russell’s limousine at the White Party.  What Russell didn’t count on this time, was that there was something bigger  on the receiving end of some of these emails and letters – NBC and Bravo.  Their missive was simple and succinct – cut it out or you’re both fired.

I couldn’t help but notice that he used the word “litigators” – not “lawyers” when he spoke to Kyle and Mauricio.   Russell was no stranger to courtrooms, law offices and civil suits.  He had been, and still was, at that moment in time,  involved in litigation, not brought by him but against him, his wife, his partners and his business.   I don’t think that this was a casual choice of words by Russell, but rather was meant to add gravitas and an undertone of menace.

Not all lawyers are litigators.  Many go though entire careers without ever filing suit or going to court.  They write wills, plan estates and represent people at house closings.   When I was first hired by a law firm , there was a box of business cards atop my desk in my office.  Under my name it said “Litigation Associate”.   The cards had been designed and worded without any input from me.  What I came to learn was that this was not meant to be a title, but rather a statement, determined by the senior partners and office manager, and was meant to imply that we will sue you.

Russell knew that implication and had made up his mind that everybody had to shut up – about him, his marriage and his business.  I see people all over the internet, including some of the Housewives, issuing similar warnings.  They bandy about terms like libel, slander, defamation and stalking with little clue as to what they mean.  I sometimes wish that someone would give these peevish folks the message that even the President of the United States can’t tell us to knock it off, and I’m pretty sure he would like to at times.  It just isn’t that easy for a plaintiff to win these types of cases.  The one thing that Russell (or any of the other celebs on Twitter) didn’t understand is that all of us can  pretty much say what we want, within the boundaries of reason and the truth.

The Supreme Court of the United States has been very protective of and clear about this freedom, often coming down on the unpopular side of controversies.  They found in favor of Larry Flynt, the owner and editor of Hustler magazine in an action brought by the Reverend Jerry Falwell in 1988.  That decision gave public figures a very steep hill to climb in order to prove that their names and reputations had been tarnished.  The Court, in 2011, overturned a decision which had, at first, been favorable to the father of a young Marine killed in Iraq.  That case,  Snyder v. Phelps, was brought against the Reverend Phelps, his family and the entire crew over at the particularly noxious Westboro Baptist Church – a group best known for making appearances at funerals, mostly military, while carrying signs  worded only to cause hurt.

Given that, Russell really didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning any lawsuits on the basis of telling people to shut up.  He would have had a hard time proving that what had been said or written was done with malice and a reckless disregard for the truth – requirements for slander and libel.  He would have been hard pressed to make claims that his business and/or reputation had been harmed in any way, as his history of questionable businesses practices and false promises to investors was already well documented.  The absolute worst problem Russell would have faced was uncovering the source of these rumors.  You see, what Russell didn’t know at the time was that he had his own combination of “Deep Throat” and Madame Defarge,  living right under his roof.


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13 Responses to Libel, Lawsuits and Free Speech

  1. Designdiva says:

    Good morning all…. Noisy neighbors certainly heard my Freedom to express myself this morning..including a demonstration of the popular FINGER puppet….. Some of you may know it to be formerly called a one finger salute..I only salute Soldiers ….All others get the FINGER puppet….

    On with the show.. EMPRESS…So nicely worded and written..
    What comes to mind after watching the WHite Party episode with Mr ford was his ( mr ford ) statement about Russell..He felt he had just witnessed a man betrayed by his wife and that look of utter defeat on his face..Broken , I believe were his exact words…
    After all these many weeks and hours of researching and trying to grasp the concept of this woman I feel I have a better insight into Russell…not taylor
    NOW…before I hear BUT….hear me out…
    I am talking about Russell the husband and father…not the scammer we all know does/did exist.
    I can feel his frustration at the circumstances with his wife wanting to be in the “limelight” of BH and Hollywood and would do anything to secure her place because he loved her.. We now know what a conniving beast she is and can be..But did he ?? Not at first…It wasnt until that fateful night at the White Party that the light bulb had been turned on… June 18th/19th…..2011
    I think his emails were sent in desperation based on the information he had recieved from his WIFE…. He felt he was doing the right thing to help protect his and HER honor….
    It is a shame that we dont know the context of that fateful email or the others..It would provide and insight to his mind set at the time they were sent….
    Next comes communication from Bravo…that this type of litigous behavior will not be tolerated and to stop or like you said..LOSE YOUR PLACE IN LINE….WELL…no way was Missy Taylor going to lose that place in line…So she hatched a plan..I’ll divorce my husband and have a while new spin to my story line for next season….I’ll show bravo that I can play by THEIR rules
    She was desperate to remain in that “limelight”.. I believe that Russell did not want to really play by Bravos Rules and wanted a life with his wife and child over being on TV…. I beleieve that this is what Taylor and Russell fought about..and fought hard…Her harder than him….
    I feel he left the marital home a broken and defeated man.I believe he felt his own wife was going to sell him down the river for her OWN BENEFIT…..Coupled with the MMR Lawsuit and God only knows what other things that were said or done those days preceeding his death we will never know… I do know that a broken and defeated man felt that DEATH was the better option than LIVING….And how shameful is that…….Children will never know the love and the touch of their Father ever again.. Other family members and friends have also lost a part of their lives…and for what… the consequences of REALITY TV in BEVERLY HILLS…. that’s not how it was suppose to be…
    I firmly believe that EVIL does come back around FULL CIRCLE.
    and that Russell is still in Limbo

    Sorry for the long post……
    Hugs and Peace


    • Viewer 5 says:

      Diva, Empress – Hello!

      I’m not sure, but I think when (let’s say) I accuse Diva of attacking Mr. Ford with a frying pan, and then go post it at Empress’s Blog (using their real names) they can sue the f*ck out of me; as I’d be lying and slandering Diva. The onus would be on me to prove Mr. Ford sustained bodily harm, etc.

      I was told (re: Falwell) that the reason Flynt won is b/c no one would take Flynt’s “accusations” seriously, and that Falwell, as a public figure, had laid himself open to this kind of sport. If, say, the NYTimes had published the same info as Flynt and said it was “the truth” then Falwell could go after the NYTimes, etc. etc. as it were.

      Since I know Mr. Ford and Diva are not Roadrunner and the Coyote – I’d like to bring up another point. Brain injury/bruising/bumps sustained by “Taylor” when Russell “hit her head against the glass door are easily proved by scans. *I think.* I recently had brain MRI and that brain measure-the-electrical-current-and-make-sure-everything-is-flowing-correctly scan done, and I seem to recall the technician saying it was evident I’d never had any head injury, etc.

      A little further on/off topic: I’m glad Shana is stupid enough (according to yesterday’s UsWeekly News) to post “further” evidence of Russell hitting her and recording her. A tape recorder? Really? Post millennium? Or have I been transported to 1996?

      Good going, “Taylor.” Keep talking. Please. 😀

      • V5, You are correct in your comparison of Hustler magazine versus the New York Times. It was, to some degree, a matter of the type of publication in which the Falwell kerfuffle took place. Hustler mocked Falwell in a raunchy parody. The New York Times is a paper that reports facts (mostly, anyway), so yes, the standards are on two very different levels. I don’t think even Larry Flynt considered what he did to be journalism.
        Your last little bit made me laugh – it must be hard to muzzle that woman.

      • tuzentswurth says:

        I know! LOL, I picture a tape recorder the size of a good hard cover book duct taped under her desk. How long does Taylor think tapes run? 24 hours?

  2. Mornin’ diva,
    Separating the man from the scammer, I can see some of your points. There are some couples that are like oil and water – these two were kerosene and a match. I would like to believe that he, at least, married her for the right reasons, but a part of me also thinks that he saw an opportunity to form a different sort of partnership – the 20% married, 80% business thing that has been mentioned.
    I also think that her meltdowns and histrionics, e.g. crawling into a suitcase, screaming at a tea party and joking about going over a balcony in Malibu had been played over and over in the Armstrong house. She, at least, knew how to push buttons to get her way and what she wanted – money, attention, acceptance and a place at those Beverly Hills tables. I don’t think she is capable of love or empathy, and is a textbook narcissist.
    They were both players, but she was better at it. I think she lives in a parallel universe.

    • tuzentswurth says:

      Taylor looked like a sad junkie in Colorado. If she has a drug problem on top of an alcohol problem, she would be very difficult to live with,

  3. Designdiva says:

    Empress..Yes I do think at the beginning of the relationship it was the business scamming part..Partly because he played along with the FORD FAMILY thing… We have seen stories about their scamming here in Florida to that effect….
    Taylor likes to bring people into her fanatsy life..If you can’t be her friend PLEASE dont be my enemy..Classic rebuttal…She used it to her benefit at the tea party and won LISA over..and Lisa bought it….Whether to protect herself and all her assests who knows… I am sure one day it will come out in the open…The REAL reason Lisa chose to be taylors “friend”…After all..Living in BH is a game and she does make the rules……LOL LOL LOL

  4. PussyGalore says:

    Empress, I must begin by apologizing for not having checked back in with you sooner. I did not realize that you’d be posting regularly and since Monday I’ve had to leave the house before 7am every morning and that pretty much ruins me for the entire day. So I just haven’t had much time to spend online but hopefully things will be back to normal now and at least for the next few days I’ll have my days to myself.

    I feel great empathy for Russell even though, as you both say, the man was a player and not the most ethical human being, but at some point between the White Party and the time he took his life he came to the realization that he had been betrayed on an epic scale by the one person in his life who he’d never have imagined in a million years would forsake him so savagely. Mr. Ford was so right, Russell’s heart was broken, his spirit was crushed, his hope dashed. It’s heartbreaking to even imagine.

    • PG,
      I’m not sure if I will be posting daily, but I will try to find the time and the topics which I hope will give you something worth reading about.
      No apology is ever necessary and your opinions are always held in my highest regard.

  5. Empress, I also feel very sorry for Russell. I’ve read that at his “investment seminars” where he tried to get money from people to “invest” (but really he was scamming them) Taylor played the role of hostess, setting up the food, and flirting with the potential “investors.” She was a very willing partner in his search for new marks. It is very eery that in the end, Taylor out-conned Russell. There must be more behind the scenes that we don’t know about. Perhaps Taylor threatened him that she would testify against him, certainly she told him about the “abuse plot line” in the show & that he was going to be blamed for abusing her.

    Yes Taylor is covering her tracks, rather well. She says in the last episode “Russell and I got into a huge fight and I was injured.” She never actually said “Russell hit me” or “Russell broke my jaw/eye socket” etc. The legal dept. at Bravo is certainly working overtime to keep Russell’s family from suing. The most disgusting part of this is Bravo cashing in on Taylor’s lies, Russell’s suicide and their belief that this is “good television.”

    • bsf,
      If I recall correctly, the phrase she used was “and I got hurt” which I think was even more carefully chosen. That could infer a lot more and a lot less. it could mean that her feelings were hurt or whatever the hell she wants it to mean. She is a very clever girl.

      • Designdiva says:

        Empress…AH HAH…But dont forget….We have video of her on ABC News and other outlets where she does indeed state that Russell hit her…NOTICE….She only inferred to it while being filmed for Bravo..actually states AFTER he is no longer here to defend those accusations……

        • Adgirl says:

          I believe Taylor has technically been on the “entertainment” shows rather than the news shows, which means the standards of facts & fact checking are lower to non-existent. Taylor is nothing is not calculating.

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