Dissecting Shirley Sherrod’s Complaint Against Andrew Breitbart

William A. Jacobson
Legal Insurrection

I’m not going to repeat all the background; read my prior posts:

Where we are today is that last Friday Sherrod filed and this weekend served a Complaint against Breitbart and one of his producers, asserting three Counts:  Defamation, False Light, and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.

Sherrod is represented by Thomas Yanucci of Kirkland & Ellis, who has a reputation as a top media litigator.

The Complaint is 42-pages long, but the legal weakness of the case was given away right in the first paragraph (emphasis and italics in original; underscoring mine):

This is an action brought by Shirley Sherrod, a former Presidential appointee and former Georgia State Director for Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) for defamation, false light and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  Mrs. Sherrod was forced to resign from her job after Defendants ignited a media firestorm by publishing false and defamatory statements that Mrs. Sherrod “discriminates” against people due to their race in performing her official federal duties. Defendants drew false support for their claims from a speech given by Mrs. Sherrod that they edited, deceptively, to create the appearance that Mrs. Sherrod was admitting present-day racism. In fact, Mrs. Sherrod was  describing events that occurred twenty-three years before she held her federal position and, in fact, was encouraging people not to discriminate on the basis of race.

Notice the themes right at the start:  A distinction between past and present discrimination and an emphasis on Sherrod’s “federal duties.”

These themes are picked up throughout the 42-pages, as summarized in paragraph 4 of the Complaint:

“Specifically, Defendants defamed Mrs. Sherrod by editing and publishing an intentionally false and misleading clip of Mrs. Sherrod’s speech and added the following statements as a narrative to the clip:

• “Mrs. Sherrod admits that in her federally appointed position, overseeing over a billion dollars … She discriminates against people due to their race.”
• Mrs. Sherrod’s speech is “video evidence of racism coming from a federal appointee and NAACP award recipient.”
• “[T]his federally appointed executive bureaucrat lays out in stark detail, that her federal duties are managed through the prism of race and class distinctions.”
• “In the first video, Sherrod describes how she racially discriminates against a white farmer.”
• Her speech is a “racist tale.” [….]”

The remainder of the Complaint is spent fleshing out these assertions with screen shots and other evidence, all of which purports to show actual malice.  (Note:  Plaintiff’s counsel seems to recognize that Sherrod will be considered a public figure for the purpose of the dispute in this case, hence the extensive labor to paint Breitbart as having acted with malice.)

So what is wrong with these seemingly impressive allegations?…

The article continues at Legal Insurrection. At the site, Professor Jacobson includes several screen shots of  the video of Sherrod’s speech to the NAACP and evaluates her statements. He also includes the 42 page complaint Sherrod v Breitbart

Comments are closed.