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Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker says in pleadings that an internal firm e-mail can’t be considered libelous under Georgia law. Whether the e-mail is considered “published” is a critical issue in the libel suit filed against the firm by attorney Dennis J. Gerschick. Gerschick contends that an e-mail intended only for circulation among eight Paul Hastings lawyers — but inadvertently sent to him — was libelous. Paul Hastings lawyers, who filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings late last month, said that an internal e-mail is privileged and doesn’t meet the definition of published material. The Los Angeles-based firm is represented by Peter C. Canfield and Marcia Kay Bull Stadeker of Washington, D.C.-based Dow, Lohnes & Albertson and Stephen L. Cotter and C.W. “Tab” Billingsley Jr., of Atlanta’s Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers. Gerschick is representing himself. Paul Hastings lawyers concede that under Georgia law libel is considered published as soon as it is communicated to any person other than the party libeled. But they say the Georgia Court of Appeals has ruled that an exception to the broad definition of publication has evolved. “When the communication is intracorporate … and is heard by one who, because of his/her duty or authority has reason to receive the information, there is no publication of the allegedly slanderous material, and without publication, there is no cause of action for slander,” the court wrote. Kurtz v. Williams, 188 Ga. App. 14 (1988). The defendant-lawyers also note that the allegedly libelous e-mail was retracted in a follow-up e-mail. And they say that the e-mail, which they call “hyperbole,” was “substantially accurate” and is a protected expression of opinion. The incident originated in an e-mail Gerschick sent asking a Paul Hastings lawyer if he could conduct a continuing education seminar on financial statement analysis for the firm’s lawyers. Gerschick is a certified public accountant and a chartered financial analyst. He speaks regularly at seminars for CPAs on reading and analyzing financial statements. Paul Hastings partner J. Allen Maines, who had litigated against Gerschick, received a copy of the e-mail and then sent a message to the firm’s professionalism and business development committee warning it not to take Gerschick up on his offer. The e-mail, which mistakenly was copied to Gerschick, called him “A NUT” and “ONE OF THE WORST LAWYERS I [Maines] HAVE EVER SEEN, AND A LIAR,” according to a copy of the transmission that was included in court filings. Maines told other Paul Hastings lawyers in the e-mail message that “under no circumstances should we have anything to do” with Gerschick. Maines also suggested in the e-mail that Gerschick “couldn’t read a financial statement if his life depended on it.” The e-mail also refers to “sanctions, attorneys fees and fines” awarded to Maines against Gerschick. “Moreover, we have been asked by two separate judges to file disciplinary actions against Gerschick with the State Bar of Georgia and to pursue disbarment for his outrageous unethical conduct,” Maines wrote in the e-mail. The two lawyers had faced off in a 1996 securities case, and Fulton State Judge Henry M. Newkirk awarded attorney fees and costs in the case to Maines’ client. Gerschick replied to Maines, called his statements “slanderous” and requested a retraction. The next day, Maines sent a message to his seven law partners saying he inadvertently hit “reply to all” when he warned them to stay away from Gerschick. Maines, in the e-mail that was attached to Maines’ and Paul Hastings’ answer, acknowledged that Gerschick “demanded an immediate retraction” and conceded that his recollection of the events “is not perfect.” Maines added, “I do not, to say the least, think highly of Mr. Gerschick, and I do not believe our firm should hire him.” He also apologized and called the message a retraction of his original e-mail. On Sept. 5, Gerschick filed suit against Maines and Paul Hastings for unspecified damages. Gerschick said Maines’ e-mail contained false statements, “slandered and/or libeled” him and damaged his personal and business reputation. Gerschick declined to comment on Maines’ and Paul Hastings’ answer and motions. On Sept. 27, Fulton Superior Court Judge Wendy L. Shoob recused herself from the case. She is married to Walter E. Jospin, one of the Paul Hastings partners who Maines copied on his original e-mail.

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