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Claims That a Person Embezzles and Steals Are Defamatory

In the case of Holtrey v. Wiedeman, 2023-Ohio-2440, an appellate court held that the community member was liable for defamation when the community member made several false statements incriminating a prospective hire in an embezzlement scheme that resulted in the prospective hire not being recruited as a head coach at a local high school.

In this case, the community member argued that (1) the prospective hire was a limited purpose public figure due to a previous scandal and being a public school teacher: (2) the community member’s statements were just a statements of the community member’s opinion: and (3) the community member had qualified privilege because the community member had an interest and/or duty to prevent a person he believed to be a “crook” from becoming head coach. In response, the prospective hire argued that (1) the decades old scandal and being a public-school teacher do not make the prospective hire a limited purpose public figure; (2) the community member’s statements implied that the prospective hire may be guilty of indictable criminal offenses and therefore not simply opinion; and (3) the community member was only concerned with the prospective hire’s abilities as a head coach. The appellate court agreed with the prospective hire.

In support of its decision in favor of the prospective hire, the appellate court explained that, just because the prospective hire may have been a considered a limited purpose public figure due to the earlier scandal in the late 90s and 2000s and the prospective hiring being a public-school teacher does not mean that the prospective hire is a limited-purpose public figure. The appellate court next explained that implying a person is guilty of embezzlement and theft is defamation per se. The appellate court then explained that the community member did not have any children enrolled at the school in which the prospective hire might have been head coach and had not taken any issue with the prospective hire acting as a tennis coach at the same school, but rather was only concerned because the community member did not think the prospective hire would be a good basketball coach.

To read this case, click here.

Authors: Matthew John Markling and the McGown & Markling Team.

Note: This blog entry does not constitute – nor does it contain – legal advice. Legal jurisprudence is like the always-changing Midwestern weather. As a result, this single blog entry cannot substitute for consultation with a McGown & Markling attorney. If legal advice is needed with respect to a specific factual situation, please feel free to contact a McGown & Markling attorney.

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