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$6.1 Million Damage Awarded In Defamation Case

A Texas District Court judge
ruled that a former intern defamed a bat sanctuary nonprofit and its president,
and awarded the organization $6.1 million in damages.
After a four-day trial, Judge
William Brigham found that Mary Cummins had committed defamation against Bat
World Sanctuary president Amanda Lollar and breached her internship contract
with the organization. She was ordered to pay $3.0 million in punitive damages,
$10,000 for her breach of contract, and $176,000 in attorney’s fees.
Cummins was accepted for an
internship at the Mineral Wells, Texas, organization in 2010, but left early
after becoming dissatisfied with the program. Lollar and her attorneys then
claim she went back to her home in California posted allegations of animal
cruelty against her and the organization on the Internet.
“This judgment sends a
powerful message to cyber-stalkers and others who use the Internet to harass
people or to harm their reputations,” said Randy Turner, Lollar’s attorney.
“Innocent victims like Amanda Lollar often don’t have the resources, expertise,
or ability to defend themselves against such vicious Internet attacks.
Hopefully this judgment will make someone think twice before engaging in an
Internet smear campaign.”
Among many allegations,
Cummins accused Lollar of performing surgeries on bats without anesthesia,
possessing and distributing controlled substances without a license, and
throwing dead bats in the trash. Along with posting these complaints on the
Internet, she also filed numerous complaints with animal cruelty organizations,
including a foundation that had been funding Bat World Sanctuary but stopped
doing so after receiving the complaints. Every agency that Cummins filed
complaints with eventually found them to be without merit after further
investigation.
“I would like to thank
everyone who stood by us during this ordeal and never, ever lost faith in us,”
Lollar said via a statement. “Mr. Turner and his paralegal, Kelly Bozeman,
worked tirelessly for us and we couldn’t have won without them. I will be
forever grateful.”
Cummins is the president of
Animal Advocates, a nonprofit based in Los Angeles, Calif. that works to
prevent cruelty to animals. She plans to appeal the ruling, claiming a conflict
of interest.
On one
hand I’m shocked because Plaintiffs did not show the essential elements for a
claim of defamation or breach of contract. On the other hand I’m not really
that shocked. Before one hearing Plaintiffs’ attorney Randy Turner of Bailey
& Galyen told me that he’s known this Judge for years. He insinuated that
the Judge will automatically rule in his favor, and it appears that he has. I
believe there was a conflict of interest and a new trial by a new Judge is in
order.”

On her website, animaladvocates.us, Cummins posted
information documenting other complaints made against Lollar. Judge Brigham ordered
her to remove that information, a ruling that she also plans to challenge on
the basis of the Freedom of Information Act.


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