Does the Church Have to Show Me a Defamatory Letter Written About Me?

Full Question:

If somebody accuses me of something (unethical behavior) and puts that in writing, should I not be entitled to see that accusatory piece of writing before having to respond to it? isn't it my right to total disclosure of information in as far as my very own person is concerned? This is NOT about anything that breaks the law, and it happened in the environment of the church to which I belong. Somebody (who is not a friend) wrote a defamatory letter to the head of the church implying that my conduct in the church is ethically objectionable. The head of the church has told me this much, and has offered me the opportunity of responding to that, but he will not let me see the accusatory memo. Should I not be entitled to it, so I could respond in a more specific manner to the specific allegations against me? Isn't there something in the US Bill of Rights that supports this? if so, what? Please let me know if more specifics are needed so my question CAN BE answered. I do not need a maze of legal nuances, nor a 'yes and no' scenario. Thanks.
08/11/2010   |   Category: Civil Actions ยป Defamation   |   State: Georgia   |   #22879

Answer:

No, you would probably need to request the letter through a request for production in the discovery process after filing a defamation lawsuit, as it is not a public document and the right to confront one’s accusers only applies to the state bringing criminal charges. Due process laws generally don’t apply to a private entity. Even if you were to request the letter through a request for production, the letter may be privileged against disclosure. The priest-penitent privilege protects communications between a person and a clergy member acting in a professional capacity as a spiritual advisor from disclosure. A clergyman uses the priest-penitent privilege to refuse to divulge confidential information received from a person during confession or similar exchanges.

Defamation is an act of communication that causes someone to be shamed, ridiculed, held in contempt, lowered in the estimation of the community, or to lose employment status or earnings or otherwise suffer a damaged reputation. Such defamation is couched in 'defamatory language'.

It may be considered libel per se (on its face) when a false statement implies you committed a crime. Defamation is a difficult wrong to prove, as there are various factors that are to be taken into consideration. The court must evaluate the defendant’s investigation, or lack there of, concerning the accuracy of the statement. How thoroughly the investigation was handled will reflect upon the nature and interest of the person who communicated the statement. Generally, defamation damages will not be awarded if the defendant had an honest but yet mistaken belief in the truth of the statement. The amount of damages that can be awarded is a matter of subjective determination for the court, based on all the facts and circumstances in each case.

Libel and slander are subcategories of defamation. in order to prove defamation, the plaintiff must prove:

1.; that a statement was made about the plaintiffs reputation, honesty or integrity that is not true;
2.; publication to a third party (i.e., another person hears or reads the statement); and
3.; the plaintiff suffers damages as a result of the statement.

Libel is a form of defamation that consists of making false written statements about a person which would damage that person's reputation. Some statements while libelous or slanderous, are absolutely privileged in the sense that the statements can be made without fear of a lawsuit for slander. The best example is statements made in a court of law.; An untrue statement made about a person in court which damages that person's reputation will generally not cause liability to the speaker as far as slander is concerned. Case law from various jurisdictions supports the principle that, generally, information released by the police, including reports and records, is considered to be a report of an official action subject to a privilege against a charge of defamation. To prove defamation it must be shown that the person did not have a belief in the statement made, or failed to make a reasonable investigation into its truth.