CanWest's Sun trial hears it's all true about Robbins
2005-07-27 20:21 ET - Street Wire
by Stockwatch Business Reporter
The Vancovuer Sun's lawyer spent the morning of the 26th day of the Tony Robbins libel trial explaining that the evidence presented at trial shows that Mr. Robbins really is a hypocrite and an adulterer. The Sun's June 7, 2001, article is essentially true, Rob Anderson argued, and if read as a whole, does not defame the self-help guru.
Mr. Robbins is suing The Sun and other media defendants over a series of media stories published in June, 2001. Mr. Robbins claims the stories imply he is an adulterous wife-stealing hypocrite who does not follow his own advice. The media defendants claim their stories do not defame Mr. Robbins, and that except for the adultery imputation, which they state the words do not support, their stories are true.
Media defendants' closing continues
Mr. Anderson continued on his second day of closing arguments by reviewing the June 7, 2001, Vancouver Sun article by Jeff Lee, on the breakdown of the Lynch marriage, offering evidence on each paragraph that he says proves the truth behind the article. The lawyer kept stressing that the various paragraphs of the story were not defamatory, and that if read as a whole, a normal reader gets the impression of a balanced and non-defamatory article.
The article stated that Sage Robbins, formerly known as Bonnie Lynch, "ran off" with Mr. Robbins. The media defendants claim this language is dramatic but not defamatory. As for the sections of the Lee article that said Mr. Robbins was divorcing his wife of the time, and considering his new relationship "a midlife celebration," the worst meaning of the words is that it is ironic that a counsellor and self-help person would find himself in such a situation.
In the middle of the story lies a paragraph which states that Mrs. Robbins's infatuation with Mr. Robbins lead to a breakdown of the Lynch marriage. "It is hard to imagine how the fact that a woman in infatuated with you and wants to leave her marriage to be with you is defamatory," Mr. Anderson said.
The article is balanced, Mr. Anderson repeated many times throughout the morning. For every instance where a line might reflect badly on Mr. Robbins, there is also information from the "other side" of the story. The story of Mr. Lynch is contradicted, and his character cast into question, by Sharon Humphrey, Mrs. Robbins's mother, and Stephen Jaffe, Mr. Robbins's spokesman.
"Significantly ... it is Mr. Lynch and not Mr. Robbins who is responsible for Bonnie leaving her marriage. Although none of the individuals quoted in the article say so, it is apparent to any 21st century reader that neither Mr. Lynch not Mr. Robbins made the critical decision. Bonnie Lynch is a responsible adult woman, and she made the decision," Mr. Anderson said. "The article does not say bad things about Mr. Robbins. The article said that he counsels celebrities, is a multimillionaire and Bonnie became infatuated with him."
Mr. Justice L. Paul Williamson asked Mr. Anderson what he plans to do to address the accusation of hypocrisy that the defendants have admitted. Mr. Anderson replied that it is his position that the Lee article does not cast Mr. Robbins as a hypocrite, only as human.
Mr. Anderson suggested that the judge should not look favourably upon Mr. Robbins for not showing up to have his day in court and testify on his own behalf during his trial. The judge may also wish to think the same way of Mrs. Robbins. Mr. Anderson tried to get Mrs. Robbins in court as a witness, but she claimed she was living in California, and that the British Columbia courts had no jurisdiction over her. Mr. Robbins and Mrs. Robbins were both on the plaintiff's witness list, but Mr. McConchie ultimately decided not to call to the witness stand.
Lynch attempted suicide
The judge must decide the case on the evidence, Mr. Anderson told the court on July 26, 2005, and the evidence indicates that Mr. Lynch did try to kill himself. "The only conclusion available on the evidence is that Lynch either did attempt suicide or threatened to do so," Mr. Anderson said.
Mr. Anderson went back to the testimony of Gary Sir John Carlsen III, Mr. Lynch's onetime legal adviser, on June 24, 2005. Mr. Carlsen testified under oath that he personally intervened to save Mr. Lynch's life, after Mr. Lynch swallowed a bunch of pills. Mr. Carlsen force-fed Mr. Lynch a dry mustard solution to induce the man to vomit. Mr. Carlsen also told a reporter from the Globe & Mail the same story in the week before the trial began.
Mr. McConchie did not deal with the mustard story during Mr. Carlsen's time on the stand, Mr. Anderson pointed out. Mr. Carlsen's Oct. 5, 2004, apology did not retract the mustard episode. That leaves the judge with evidence that Mr. Lynch did try to kill himself.
The court heard from Mr. Lynch's friend, Alan Lawrence, that when he and Mr. Lynch went for lunch in the spring of 2000, after Mrs. Robbins left him, Mr. Lawrence found his friend to be "hollow, a different person." During the meeting, Mr. Lawrence opened the glove compartment of Mr. Lynch's car and found prescription medication. Concerned, Mr. Lawrence asked Mr. Lynch if they could to go to the gym together, to help Mr. Lynch.
Without ever saying the word, Mr. Anderson briefly touched upon the portions of the media articles that the plaintiff claims call him an adulterer. There are three facts that the evidence demonstrate. The first fact is that Mr. Robbins was married to his first wife when he met the current Mrs. Robbins. His divorce became final on March 5, 2001.
The second fact is that Mrs. Robbins and Mr. Lynch were still married when she met Mr. Robbins. The Lynch divorce hearing occurred on June 21, 2001, and became effective on July 24, 2001.
The third fact that the court needs to consider is that Mr. Robbins and Mrs. Robbins were engaged by the time of Jeff Lee's article on June 6, 2001.
"If my mother were alive, she'd say that was the end of that," Mr. Anderson said.
If Mr. Robbins was in a relationship with Mrs. Robbins as described by the media defendants, which led to the breakup of the Lynch marriage, then the judge can draw the conclusion that Mr. Robbins is a hypocrite, according to the media lawyer. Pointing to Mr. Robbins's examination for discovery, Mr. Anderson said: "The plaintiff has said that he teaches that family is very important and that dishonesty destroys a marriage ... Further, the plaintiff agrees that dating a married woman who is not separated is contrary to this teachings."
That Mr. Robbins is a "hypocrite is proven by his own words," Mr. Anderson added.
Judy Jansen, another member of the media's legal team, presented the closing arguments on the conduct of the defendants. The conduct of The Sun and Mr. Lee were of great importance, now that the plaintiff is claiming Mr. Lee acted with reckless indifference to the truth, with an eye on claiming malice and damages.
The Lee article is what Patricia Graham, Sun editor-in-chief, referred to as a "dispute story," where there is more than one side to the story and no hard empirical data to back up the story. In such a case, the reporter needs to include both sides of the story to provide a balanced view.
Between 8:30 a.m. PT on June 6, 2001, when Mr. Lee received his story assignment, and when he filed his draft with his editors, the veteran reporter made approximately 50 phone calls, conducted an in-person interview with Mr. Lynch and reviewed court documents.
"Mr. Lee assembled 16 different sources for his article," Ms. Jansen told the judge. The sources included Mr. Lynch; Sam Georges, president of the Robbins companies; Mr. Jaffe; Mrs. Humphrey; Rick Zaklan, Mrs. Robbins's former brother-in-law; Mr. Carlsen; and Cathleen McClugan, Mr. Lynch's divorce lawyer. The other sources were a CNN interview on the Robbins companies, two National Post stories from January, 2001, a copy of the Star magazine, Mr. Robbins's book Awaken The Giant Within, and three documents from the Lynch divorce action.
Mr. Lee quickly established that Lynchs' married on June 5, 1993. Mrs. Robbins met Mr. Robbins in Hawaii in September, 1999, and attended more than one of his seminars. Mr. Lynch alleged in his divorce defence that Mrs. Robbins committed adultery with Mr. Robbins in the fall of 1999, a true reflection of his position at the time.
Ms. Jansen said that Mr. Lynch and Mrs. Robbins were together as a couple until after Mrs. Robbins came back from the Tampa seminar in January, 2000. Divorce documents state that the couple separated at some point in January, 2000.
After talking to Mr. Lynch, "Mr. Lee's first priority was to get Bonnie Lynch's side of the story," Ms. Jansen explained. Eight phone calls to track Mrs. Robbins did not locate the woman, but Mr. Lee talked to her mother and to Mr. Jaffe, which he viewed as providing the other side of the story to Mr. Lynch's claims.
Mr. Robbins had an opportunity to respond to the Lynch allegations, as Mr. Lee told Mr. Jaffe and Mr. Georges about the content of his story early in the afternoon on June 6, 2001, but he never did. Instead of making Mr. Robbins available for comment, the Robbins legal team sent a libel-chill letter to The Sun at 6:40 p.m. PT on June 6, 2001. On receiving the letter, Ms. Graham and The Sun's libel lawyer Barry Gibson reviewed the Lee article and removed the references to adultery, changing the whole tone of the story.
"Ms. Graham and Mr. Gibson believed that they had placated Mr. [Brian] Wolf's concerns by removing any references to adultery," Ms. Jansen said. "And boy, were they ever wrong."
The trial continues.
CanWest's Sun lawyers say absence should be penalized
2005-07-27 21:20 ET - Street Wire
by Stockwatch Business Reporter
The Vancouver Sun's lawyers say any damages awarded to self-help guru Tony Robbins should be minimal after Mr. Robbins failed to show up for his own day in court. The Sun's lawyers spent much of Wednesday afternoon emphasizing the fact that Mr. Robbins declined to attend the trial.
Mr. Robbins is suing The Sun and others for a series of stories published in 2001 that he claims portray him as an adulterous hypocrite who should follow his own teachings. The Sun told the story of Langley businessman John Lynch, who said his wife Bonnie left him after meeting Mr. Robbins at a seminar in Hawaii in September, 1999.
Getting both sides of the story
The afternoon session began with Sun lawyer Judy Jansen continuing to present the newspaper's closing arguments, beginning with The Sun's version of how reporter Lori Culbert's article on Mr. Robbins came to be.
(The Sun says it published Ms. Culbert's article after Mr. Robbins's lawyers complained about The Sun's first story, the one that said Mr. Lynch's wife left him for Mr. Robbins.)
In asking for the second article, Ms. Jansen said Mr. Robbins's lawyer claimed Mr. Lynch and and Abbotsford resident Gary Sir John Carlsen III (also a defendant in the trial) were trying to extort money from Mr. Robbins.
The Sun, before printing the extortion allegation, sought comment from Mr. Carlsen and Mr. Lynch.
(After The Sun printed the story, Mr. Robbins's lawyers evidently were unhappy that The Sun published comments from Mr. Carlsen and Mr. Lynch.)
"The plaintiffs raised ... the extortion issue, as a result Ms. Culbert interviewed Mr. Carlsen and Mr. Lynch," Ms. Jansen said.
Without seeking their side, the story "would have been one-sided," she argued.
Despite some objections, Ms. Jansen said Brian Wolf, Mr. Robbins's California lawyer, thought the story would "get the job done."
Mr. Robbins's absence
Ms. Jansen, at several points during the afternoon, touched on the fact that Mr. Robbins himself did not appear at his own lawsuit. This goes to more than one argument, she said, the first being that nobody can gauge exactly how wounded Mr. Robbins was by the articles.
"We don't know what injury was caused to the plaintiff's feelings because he didn't come tell us," she said.
"We are no wiser at the end of the trial than we were at the beginning as to how this article affected Mr. Robbins," she added.
She argued Mr. Robbins's no-show also mitigated in a large part any damages he could receive.
Mr. Robbins's position that he is entitled to damages is an "extraordinary position ... when he hasn't appeared," Ms. Jansen continued.
Ms. Jansen cited several libel cases and entries in legal texts in support of her position.
"If you don't show up to protect your reputation it doesn't say much for your reputation," she said.
Debbie Humphrey whisked away
Moving on, Ms. Jansen addressed another potential witness that did not show up, Bonnie's sister, Debbie Humphrey. She said Ms. Humphrey disappeared as a direct result of The Sun's efforts to subpoena her to testify.
"We know from [Ms. Humphrey's father] that Debbie left this continent," Ms. Jansen said.
"She was taken out of the country as a result of our trying to serve her," Ms. Jansen argued.
Mr. Carlsen's apology added no facts
Ms. Jansen also spent a small amount of time addressing one matter that unfolded during the course of the trial, The Sun's failure to publish Mr. Carlsen's apology to Mr. Robbins.
(Mr. Carlsen apologized ahead of the trial for his part in the article, claiming Mr. Lynch misled him.)
"Nothing that he added in terms of facts ... were necessary to correct the record," she said.
"He stole her heart"
Ms. Jansen also contended that, at worst, The Sun's June 7, 2001, article (the one that first told the story of Mr. Lynch's divorce) meant that Mr. Robbins factored into the breakup of Mr. Lynch and his wife.
"Mr. Robbins got involved with a married woman and was a factor in the breakup of her marriage," is the most damaging meaning she argues could be attributed to the June 7 article.
The judge, at that point, said that could amount to stealing another man's wife.
Ms. Jansen disagreed. "It is a way of saying he stole her heart," she contended.
Jeff Lee's "Trojan" efforts
Ms. Jansen also said Jeff Lee, the reporter that wrote that June 7 story, was very careful to question the sources of his story and did present other views.
She said Mr. Lee made extraordinary efforts to get Mr. Robbins's side of the story through calls to his representatives, Sam Georges and Steven Jaffe.
"His efforts in that regard were Trojan," Ms. Jansen said.
The fact that Mr. Lee did not talk to either Mr. Robbins or his wife "was not due to lack of effort," she added.
Ms. Jansen was done speaking at that point, however, Sun lawyer Rob Anderson had a few more words to say about Mr. Robbins's teachings and how they related to a Sun column by Pete McMartin.
(Mr. McMartin, in a column appearing two days after Mr. Lee's article, compared excerpts from Giant Steps, one of Mr. Robbins's books, with some of the events in Mr. Lee's story.)
Mr. Anderson said the book is meant to be read one chapter at a time, to provide "daily philosophies."
Each lesson, he said, is to be treated as a standalone section. However, Mr. Anderson says the different lessons contradict each other.
"You can't read any of his books, and you've got two of them, and not find conflicting philosophies," he told the judge.
"You can do different things depending which page you're in," he added.
After one final request that the lawyers be permitted to argue legal costs after the judge decides a winner, Mr. Anderson completed The Sun's closing arguments. (The legal costs of the trial will likely be significant.)
The dates of the phone calls
At that point, Mr. Robbins's lawyer, West Vancouver libel specialist Roger McConchie, argued some of the phone evidence. (In that evidence, The Sun's lawyers said Bonnie tried to phone Mr. Robbins 152 times, or 1.2 times per day, in the period leading up to her separation from Mr. Lynch.)