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The Washingtonienne Lawsuit, Invasion of Privacy, and Restoring One's Good Name:

This AP account (noted below by Jonathan) reports:

When Robert Steinbuch discovered his girlfriend had discussed intimate details about their sex life in her online diary, the Capitol Hill staffer didn't just get mad. He got a lawyer....

Neither Steinbuch nor his attorney returned phone calls seeking comment. In court, attorney Jonathan Rosen said Steinbuch wants to restore his good name....

It seems to me that Steinbuch can't be trying to restore his good name here. Unless some new claim has been added to the complaint, this is simply a "civil action for invasion of privacy for public revelation of private facts," not a defamation claim. Nothing in this lawsuit will "restore [Steinbuch's] good name." In fact, to the extent that the original blog besmirched Steinbuch's good name, the extra publicity created by the lawsuit will only besmirch that name further.

A libel lawsuit will often have a similar effect, but at least the plaintiff could hope that a favorable verdict will announce to the world that defendant's allegations against the plantiff were false, and that the world should see the plaintiff in a better light. A disclosure of private facts lawsuit can at most transfer money to the plaintiff, and compensate him for the emotional distress that he has assertedly suffered because of the defendant's statements. It can't restore the plaintiff's good name — or, to be precise, the reputation that plaintiff had before these "private intimate facts" (not lies but facts) were revealed.

UPDATE: Though the complaint that I linked to refers only to the disclosure of private facts tort, and the press account seems to echo that, it appears that the complaint was indeed amended to add a false light invasion of privacy claim. This claim is like a libel claim, in that alleges that defendant said false things, but it focuses on the emotional distress caused by false allegations about private matters, rather than reputational damage (which is what libel cases are all about).

So it still doesn't seem like plaintiff's lawsuit is about "restoring his good name"; such attempts to unblemish one's reputation are usually the province of defamation lawsuits. It's possible that a verdict in plaintiff's favor on the false light theory will establish that some of the allegations were false and offensively so, so perhaps some clearing of the plaintiff's name might take place. But on balance, given that the lawsuit in large measure alleges the disclosure of facts (albeit private ones), and given that it further publicizes all of defendant's allegations, both the assertedly false and the true, it's still hard to see how the lawsuit is likely to restore the plaintiff's good name.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. The Washingtonienne Lawsuit, Invasion of Privacy, and Restoring One's Good Name:
  2. Washingtonienne Suit to Go to Trial:
anonVCfan:
In today's news,

1. During the pretrial phase of a case, a lawyer said something dishonest and disingenuous to the press, and

2. The sun rose.
12.28.2006 10:07am
M (mail):
If only he taught somewhere other than Arkansas (or other souther states, perhaps) his having been on this blog would only raise his standing among his students.
12.28.2006 10:17am
David Maquera (mail) (www):
What good name? The "good name" Steinbuch displayed to the public before he filed this ridiculous lawsuit?

Regardless, Steinbuch has demonstrated that he is nothing more than chump with lousy decision making skills. First, he shacks up with a rather unattractive young woman (anyone with his alleged good looks should have been able to do better unless he was desperate). Second, he files this lawsuit which results in bringing greater public scrutiny on his dirty laundry (the phrase "cutting off one's nose to spite one's own face" comes to mind). Quite frankly, I fail to see how any prospective client would ever consider hiring Mr. Steinbuch as his/her/its attorney given Mr. Steinbuch's poor decision making thus far.
12.28.2006 10:22am
Shangui (mail):
First, he shacks up with a rather unattractive young woman (anyone with his alleged good looks should have been able to do better unless he was desperate).

She is many things (to many men), but from the pictures I've seen (and let me note for the record that these do NOT include those in Playboy), she was a lot better than "rather unattractive." And David, if you're going to throw around an insult like that, do NOT link to a picture of yourself (though you do have a nice smile).
12.28.2006 10:38am
Anderson (mail) (www):
It seems to me that Steinbuch can't be trying to restore his good name here.

Like I said in the other thread, this is universal plaintiffspeak for "I want money."

from the pictures I've seen (and let me note for the record that these do NOT include those in Playboy), she was a lot better than "rather unattractive."

I *did* see the Playboy pictures, which actually made her look less attractive than she did in her clothes. Just a little weird looking.

Though as my boss would put it, if she ate crackers in my bed, I still wouldn't throw her out.
12.28.2006 10:42am
footballfan1:
I think the real lesson here is be cautious what you do in your private life, especially if it will have ramifications on your job/work life and reputation. Capitol Hill, for all of it's gossip and backroom story telling, is nonetheless a work environment, and he should have known better than to sleep with this intern. While I have some sympathy for him, she doesn't strike me as the type of woman you would bring home to mom, and perhaps he should have been a little more perceptive about the type of woman he was fooling around with. This suit is a skunk, and it would behove him to let this thing go and move on with his life. Just as this blog has written about this, stories will continue until he drops this ridiculous lawsuit.
12.28.2006 10:50am
Pete Freans (mail):
I think the real lesson here is be cautious what you do in your private life, especially if it will have ramifications on your job/work life and reputation.

Yes, especially if it involves a hooker. According to the complaint (and her blog), it appears that the defendant was a part-time prostitute on the Hill while working fulltime as a Sen. Dewine staffer. Maybe the Republicans deserved to lose afterall...
12.28.2006 11:14am
Half Sigma (mail) (www):
"This suit is a skunk, and it would behove him to let this thing go and move on with his life."

If he gets a few hundred thousand dollars out of it (what he really wants), then he's better off with the money.

But hopefully our legal system won't let him get money because he slept with some slutty girl who told other people the details.
12.28.2006 11:17am
The NJ Annuitant (mail):
If you are ashamed for people to find out about your behavior, maybe you should not be engaging in that behavior.
12.28.2006 11:41am
ThomasL (mail):
Steinbuch alleges a "false light" claim, so while there's no defamation claim made, there is an opportunity for him restore his good name.

Apparently he can come with a condom on. Or something along those lines.
12.28.2006 11:59am
John (mail):
Aw, he just wants a piece of her $300,000 book contract. It's the American way!
12.28.2006 12:36pm
milo_went (mail) (www):
This lawsuit always struck me as ridulous. Next to nobody knew Robert Steinbuch before, or especially these "private facts" about him, now many more do. If you consent to sex with someone, what prevents that person from doing a 'kiss and tell' about it? The fact is, the guy had sex with this girl, let's get on with life. I'm talking to you Robert.
12.28.2006 1:08pm
Jim Rhoads (mail):
His suit is nothing more than an attempt to share profits from a "joint venture" which she turned into a (successful) commercial endeavor without his consent.

Her book would have been nothing commercially without the capitol hill wrinkle, and much of the "meat" (so to speak) in the book was his.

Why shouldn't he at least get some monetary benefit out of it?
12.28.2006 2:11pm
Whadonna More:
The jury is going to decide the case based on some squishy conception of right and wrong in the circumstances, not on the law per se, so a verdict for plaintiff really will restore his good name to the extent the public presently finds him more "in the wrong" than Washingtonienne.

NB: I'm a little freaked out at the amazon ad on this page for "Pimps, Whores and Welfare Brats" - is it context sensitive (see Freans' comment above)?
12.28.2006 2:22pm
Bob R (mail):
I think the Amazon ads are determined by your Amazon cookie. At least they seem to be for things that I've been shopping for on Amazon. This can be kind of disconcerting if you have been Xmas shopping for people with a wide range of tastes. Shopping for my teenaged daughter, twenty something son, my wife, and my mother made for a really strange ad until I figured what was going on. No comment on the "Pimps, Whores, etc." and your shopping habits. NTTAWWT.
12.28.2006 3:20pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Why shouldn't he at least get some monetary benefit out of it?

So you're basically saying that he just wants a piece?

Isn't that how he got into trouble in the first place?
12.28.2006 3:35pm
Jim Rhoads (mail):
Yeah, Anderson, that's what I'm saying. It's surely not about peace, is it?

It's not clear to me who wanted a piece more. What is clear to me is she's no victim, and neither is he. They fully deserved each other. A jury is likely to be disgusted with both of them and will probably do everything it can to make sure neither wins. I'm not sure how it accomplishes this, but in my experience, juries can be very creative.
12.28.2006 3:46pm
nunzio:
I can't imagine giving this guy much cash for this, despite his claims of "anguish" that she revealed his PG-rated sexual predilections. It's not like he can't get out of bed in the morning.

And it's unlikely he has any lost wages as a result of this minor-league scandal.

Maybe he should just accept that this whole fiasco is the perfect object lesson in not dating co-workers.
12.28.2006 4:34pm
Ross Levatter (mail):
"This lawsuit always struck me as ridulous. Next to nobody knew Robert Steinbuch before"

Nonsense. He's very well known. Former football player, I believe...

:-)
12.28.2006 4:51pm
Syllabuss:
While I have no sympathy for either of them, this ridiculous dispute has taken up, and will continue to take up, public resources. If we had a loser pays system, I doubt it would have been brought at all.
12.28.2006 5:07pm
Guest2 (mail):

[1] First, he shacks up with a rather unattractive young woman (anyone with his alleged good looks should have been able to do better unless he was desperate).

[2] She is many things (to many men), but from the pictures I've seen (and let me note for the record that these do NOT include those in Playboy), she was a lot better than "rather unattractive."



I just googled her images -- I agree that she's a lot better than "rather unattractive." She seems to have a little Brooke Burke thing going (minus the curves). If I ordered an escort and Cutler showed up, I think I'd be pretty happy.
12.28.2006 5:26pm
ReaderY:
Their lawyers must be laughing all the way to the bank over this one. Pity if real jurors have to give up some of their time for these two.
12.28.2006 6:22pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
If I ordered an escort and Cutler showed up, I think I'd be pretty happy.

Not after she blogged the evening's adventures, you might not be.
12.28.2006 8:24pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
While I'm a little rusty on it, I have some diffficulty believing that "public disclosure of private facts" includes going to bed with someone and having them talk about it.
12.28.2006 9:39pm
MartyB:
i don't want to cause trouble or anything... but all these derogatory comments about Arkansans, southerners and "crackers" are sort of insensitive, aren't they? Crackers have feelings too.
12.28.2006 10:39pm
MrJustice:
Are we going to see lawsuits filed against men who discuss their sexual exploits in the locker room? What about women who discuss their sex lives over coffee? Now, the main difference some may argue is that this is over the Internet versus a small private group. However, while not true in this case the Internet is a big place and it is far less likely that someone you know will read these things. Whereas if you are talking about it with friends it is likely they travel in close circles and it would have a greater impact on the "victim."

There is no violation of his right to privacy. It appears that he does not deny the truthfulness of the statements, so this is about her First Amendment Rights.
12.28.2006 10:47pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
I agree that the damages are fairly minor in this case. It's not like she assaulted him, injured him, or bugged/videotaped his phone, dwelling, and car or anything. Or claimed that he committed serious crimes when he didn't, committed fraud, etc.

But he should be able to pursue the suit. It might be as much about pursuing the suit to keep his job at a school in the south as anything else.
12.28.2006 10:54pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
MrJustice-

Are you trying to claim that posting a sexual story on a public internet blog is less damaging than common locker room type talk between friends? Especially a blog that has gathered some public notoriety as a window into the sexual underside of Washington?
12.28.2006 11:01pm
Lev:
I agree that she's a lot better than "rather unattractive."

Award the guy a penny and make him pay all the costs, including her attys fees.
12.29.2006 2:15am
markm (mail):
Lev: The American legal system doesn't give the jury the option of awarding legal fees and costs, but I do agree with the traditional verdict of "We find for the plaintiff and award damages of 1 cent." What else are you going to do when that's all his reputation is worth?
12.29.2006 8:31am
The NJ Annuitant (mail):
It sounds as if he got his money's worth. I agree that he suffered no economic damages.
12.29.2006 9:11am
Genob:
Anyone think that she might have conspired with him to bring this suit? They can feign anger and hostility in the press while generating publicity and book sales. The cost of pretrial discovery might be cheaper and more effective at reaching a particular demographic than an ad agency. I know I had never heard of her or her book before the article on this suit. Now....maybe I'll pick up the book if it's half price somewhere.
12.29.2006 9:33am
Anderson (mail) (www):
Anyone think that she might have conspired with him to bring this suit?

Now *there's* a thought I hadn't considered. The book was panned pretty widely -- any bit of publicity helps.
12.29.2006 10:10am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
markm-

What else are you going to do when that's all his reputation is worth?

Riigghht. Like you'd be saying that if it was your reputation.
12.29.2006 11:15am
MrJustice:
American Psikhushka:

The Internet is a large place and his name was not given. How many blogs are out there? How many of them actually garner any real attention? Many and few. The fact that it happened here is not her fault, it is just perhaps on his part bad luck. I would suspect Ms. Cutler would never have thought about gaining all this attention at the time, it was her good luck. Of course, had this been amongst friends luck would have had little to do with it because they would travel in closer circles.

In the end, this is no different then friends discussing their sex lives. At worst it is the same and at best it is less damaging.
12.29.2006 11:51am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
MrJustice-

This blog was garnering a lot of attention, and it was reasonably forseeable that it would. It was thought of as a window on some of the sexual underside of DC and Capitol Hill. And she made only token gestures to hide this guy's identity, using his real initials.

In the end, this is no different then friends discussing their sex lives. At worst it is the same and at best it is less damaging.

Nonsense, once information it posted it can be viewed by anyone with an internet connection around the world. It is orders of magnitude more dangerous than "friends discussing their sex lives". Nice try though - have you been caught invading someone's privacy and posting it on the internet before?
12.30.2006 4:59am
MrJustice:
American Psikhushka:

Have I posted personal information on the Internet? First, I would take issue with the term "caught" since it commonly implies having done something wrong. Second, if I did choose to post details of sexual relationships online I would not consider it as "invading [their] privacy," as I am a party to the act. I am very concerned about her First Amendment Rights, which some seek to violate in the name of privacy. No, I have not posted my sex life online.

Is it "reasonably foreseeable?" You have a point there, however, it would be no more foreseeable than in a city that thrives on politics, money and sex that the sexual antics within a Congressional Office that involves a prostitute/staffer and other well positioned officials would not become public. A town in which classified information as a matter of life becomes front page news.

Finally, it is no more damaging than the friendly conversation. As to most of people it is some abstract story, to which most people have moved on from. It is he that keeps it a story and is turning himself into a loser.

Consider this: A female has sex with a male who has an abnormally small penis. She then tells all of her girlfriends. Would we not suspect that every time those friends saw the man, and in particular in discussions that involved either size or sex, would they not think of their friends story. To them it is an live possibility. But, had she posted it online and assuming it was not viewed by people within that circle it is an abstract (dead) possibility.
12.30.2006 11:19am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Mr.Justice-

Second, if I did choose to post details of sexual relationships online I would not consider it as "invading [their] privacy," as I am a party to the act.

Oh yeah? Try videotaping someone you're having sex with without their permission. You're a party, right? It's still sexual assault. Your opinions about other people's rights are meaningless.

Is it "reasonably foreseeable?" You have a point there, however, it would be no more foreseeable than in a city that thrives on politics, money and sex that the sexual antics within a Congressional Office that involves a prostitute/staffer and other well positioned officials would not become public. A town in which classified information as a matter of life becomes front page news.

Huh? Is this the "everyone else is doing it" defense. Because a bunch of other people are committing crimes and torts doesn't mean that you can't be held accountable when you do it.

Finally, it is no more damaging than the friendly conversation. As to most of people it is some abstract story, to which most people have moved on from. It is he that keeps it a story and is turning himself into a loser.

Nonsense. Everyone can see something on the internet, not just "groups of friends". In fact it might even count as "publication" to post something on the internet.

Consider this: A female has sex with a male who has an abnormally small penis. She then tells all of her girlfriends. Would we not suspect that every time those friends saw the man, and in particular in discussions that involved either size or sex, would they not think of their friends story. To them it is an live possibility. But, had she posted it online and assuming it was not viewed by people within that circle it is an abstract (dead) possibility.

I don't know what you're talking about with this live and dead crap. But posting something that is invasion of privacy on the internet is more damaging than sex talk between friends. And much more actionable.
12.30.2006 2:19pm
Toby:
It's simple. My grandmother told me the answer when I was little.

Never do anything that you would mind reading about in the paper tomorrow.

People who follow this rule have no cause for shame. People who do not, are unhappy. A considerable measure of unhappiness in life is based upon how long it takes people to learn this.

If I am considering business dealings, or trust, or, heaven forbid, consulting a lawyer on a confidential matter. it is usefull information to see if this person ttook a long time or a little time to learn this. You might call learning this early "Character"

Lawyers would like to criminalize everything people are disapointed in. While this is noce for the few, it coarsens society as a whole.
12.31.2006 7:08pm