Monday, December 19, 2016

Canadian Court Wallops Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne

Fake news promoter Mark Mitchell
A Canadian appellate court has a lump of coal for the Christmas stocking of Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne: pay a libel judgment for lying on a fake news website, or your appeal will be kicked out of court.

Last May, Byrne was hit with a  C$1.2 million judgment for outlandish lies about a Canadian stock promoter, Aly Nazerali, on "Deep Capture," a website that retails fake news, conspiracy theories and personal attacks on journalists and whistleblowers. The court's scathing decision found that Byrne and right-wing conspiracy theorist Mark Mitchell maliciously fabricated wild accusations against Nazerali:
Mitchell, Byrne and Deep Capture LLC engaged in a calculated and ruthless campaign to inflict as much damage on Mr. Nazerali's reputation as they could achieve. It is clear on the evidence that their intention was to conduct a vendetta in which the truth about Mr. Nazerali himself was of no consequence. Their mission was to expose what they conceive to be corrupt business practices damaging to the global economy. Mr. Nazerali became a convenient means to that end, even when he himself could not be demonstrated to be corrupt.
The defendants were hit with substantial punitive damages for their lies.

Judd Bagley after his forgery arrest
Byrne's Deep Capture site was run for most of its lifespan by Overstock's director of communications, Judd Bagley. He founded that and a previous site about ten years ago, making him a kind of fake news pioneer. Bagley got out of the fake news business, leaving Deep Capture at about the time he copped a plea to multiple felony charges for forging prescriptions for addictive drugs.

Byrne, predictably, appealed the court decision. However, that was little more than a delaying tactic. The court's decision was a slam-dunk, based on overwhelming evidence. Byrne did not even put on a defense at the trial, producing no evidence or testimony in support of his case.

Byrne now has a choice.
 
Either he deposits with the court a letter of credit covering the full amount of the judgment, plus appellate court costs—plus Nazerali's attorney's fees from the trial, which he has requested and is likely to get—or he junks the appeal, admitting that it didn't stand a snowball's chance in hell.

This is known as a "lose-lose proposition." 

Libel judgments are no reason for celebration, especially cases in the draconian Canadian and British courts.  However, this is not a brave journalist facing down a malefactor. This is in the tradition of libel cases brought decades ago against the anti-Semite Henry Ford and the red-baiter Westbrook Pegler— a well-heeled heel who victimized an innocent person and now is being humbled by the courts. 

The court order can be found here.

© 2016 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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