I woke up in a rented Memphis condo 38 years ago today to find a Shelby County, Tennessee Sheriff's Deputy knocking at our front door, delivering a $1 million libel lawsuit. That was at 8:30 AM. My first law school exam was at 1 PM that afternoon. (Torts. My professor's name was Thomas Reynolds. I got a "B.")
The individual and corporate plaintiffs alleged that I had defamed them by reporting as Appalachian Observer editor that it appeared that they were "in cahoots" with Anderson County Sheriff DENNIS O. TROTTER, in whose jail they obtained 87% of the bail bonding business. The lawsuit hung over my head for the rest of my 1L year.
In May, 1984, Sheriff DENNIS O. TROTTER was arrested. He pled guilty to federal crimes. He was sent to federal prison for some of his many crimes. The three bail bondsmen waived indictment and pled guilty to a USDOJ criminal information charging that they had bribed TROTTER with $10,633.50 (10% of their profits).
Sheriff DENNIS O. TROTTER and the bail bondsmen settled with me out-of-court in five figure settlements. No one else has ever sued me for libel.
Few reporters sued for libel ever filed counterclaims for abuse of civil process, malicious prosecution of a civil lawsuit, RICO or other torts.
And I did it as a first-year law student at Memphis State University, pro se, ab initio.
My successful tort case was successfully prosecuted to completion by Hayden Lait.
In 1988, when Sheriff TROTTER emerged from federal prison and got a look at our potential jurors in federal court in Memphis, he knew he would not find a sympathetic jury: three of eighteen potential jurors were employees of West Tennessee churches. TROTTER's criminal conviction was for selling drugs out of the evidence locker at Anderson County Sheriff's office, including cocaine and synthetic heroin. TROTTER was one of nine (9) of 95 Tennessee Sheriffs who went to federal prison for drug dealing in the 1980s.
When I ponder disgraced former St. Johns County, Florida Sheriff DAVID SHOAR's sins, crimes and torts, I think of Sheriff TROTTER.
Republican Sheriff SHOAR had the same evil arrogance as Democratic Sheriff TROTTER. TROTTER was outrageous and so is SHOAR, as in the Michelle O'Connell coverup, his insulting a grieving family, his attempted criminal prosecution and firing of FDLE Special Agent Rusty Ray Rodgers for doing his job "too well," his stirring up Deputy JEREMY BANKS' malicious civil litigation against Agent Rodgers, dismissed March 30, 2018 (Good Friday/Passover) by United States District Court Judge Brian J. Davis.
As LBJ said to Congress after Selma, "We shall overcome!"
Why this matters (short Axios-style version, 193 words):
As a first year law student at Memphis State University in 1983, I was sued for $1,000,000 by a corrupt East Tennessee Sheriff's bail bondsmen co-felons. I immediately sued them for suing me for reporting their 87% monopoly on bail bond business, reporting it appeared that they were "in cahoots."
Sheriff DENNIS O. TROTTER went to federal prison, the three bail bondsmen waived indictment and pled guilty to federal crimes, and the four all settled civil litigation I brought against them for suing me. Lessons learned:
1. Every reporter and activist threatened with a libel lawsuit needs to know their legal rights and calmly proceed to file counterclaims against those vicious varmints who would chill, coerce, restrain and intimidate our First Amendment rights. I did.
2. We, the People win when we stand up to bullies.
3. Expose and unite against corrupt officials and all their works and pomps. Expose the cruelty of willful lawbreakers, like DENNIS O. TROTTER and DAVID SHOAR, who legally changed his name from "HOAR" in 1994.