A remodeler who sued a former client over defamatory online reviews and sought to keep them off the web permanently was denied an injunction to bar them from going back in March. But in court records recently obtained by REMODELING, we learned that Judge David S. Schell had harsh words for the defendant who posted the reviews.
Shortly after the third chapter of the controversial and heated defamation lawsuit ended in a stalemate in January, Jane Perez removed the defamatory reviews that accused remodeler Chris Dietz of stealing jewelry, trespassing, and performing shoddy work. Dietz and his lawyer filed an injunction to keep Perez's reviews off the web and sought to retry the case. In his latest and final decision, presiding Judge Schell decided against granting both the injunction and the new trial.
"Under the circumstances of this case, my conscience is not shocked by the verdict. I'm surprised by the verdict, but my conscience is not shocked. And I don't think the other standards [for a re-trial] have been met," said Schell.
Schell also addressed his decision to deny Dietz's injunction: "The injunction is denied solely due to the fact that the offending posts have been removed," Schell explained.
In response to the judge's decision, Perez's lawyer, Ray Battocchi, assured the court that the reviews would not return on Yelp. "Those postings are not going back up if I have anything to do with it," he said.
Before he left the bench, Judge Schell also had harsh words for Perez regarding her decision to post the defamatory reviews. "In my judgment, Ms. [Perez] caused havoc and chaos by her malicious and untrue statements," said Schell, adding that, "none of this would have happened if Ms. Perez had just posted the truth."
Schell also commented on the ramifications of such a case, which sparked a nationwide debate about the legal nature of online reviews and free speech. Though some have accused Dietz of endangering the ability to write freely in online reviews, Schell placed the blame on Perez. "If you want to chill free speech, keep it up, because eventually one of these companies is going to win big," Schell said. "That will chill free speech, when somebody is hit with a huge monetary verdict."
Schell continued in the defense of Dietz: "Mr. Dietz has a right to protect himself. And I find it very interesting that somebody who puts this kind of untrue material on the internet is shocked when there is push-back, acts like they're the victim when, in fact, they started it."