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Covington Student’s Lawyer Proceeds With First Steps of Libel and Defamation Lawsuits

The lawyers representing Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann and his family said, on Friday, that they had sent out letters to individual journalists, media outlets, celebrities, and Catholic organizations in the first step to possible libel and defamation lawsuits.

The list includes 50-plus names, including Democratic Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Warren, actress Alyssa Milano, and individual journalists including Maggie Haberman, Ana Cabrera and David Brooks. Also included are national media outlets such as The New York Times, CNN, GQ and TMZ; and the dioceses of Covington and Lexington, as well as the archdioceses of Louisville and Baltimore.

Nick and his school faced threats from those angered by controversial video footage of the MAGA hat-wearing students and the Native American man confronting them while drumming.

The legal counsel representing Nick and his family, Todd McMurtry and experienced libel and defamation lawyer L. Lin Wood of Atlanta, have said they will seek justice for the harm allegedly done to the teen. McMurtry said that an example of the false reports were those saying Nick got into Mr. Phillips’ face. McMurtry also added that he believes that some in the aftermath have “permanently stained (Nick’s) reputation.”

McMurtry is with the law firm of Hemmer Defrank Wessels and has practiced law in Greater Cincinnati since 1991. He said a team of seven lawyers has been working full-time to review the media accounts of what happened.

This week they have prepared documentation preservation letters addressed to organizations and individuals they believe may have defamed or libeled Nick with false reporting, McMurtry said.

McMurtry said the following organizations and people are those who can expect to receive the letters, which were all sent by the close of business on Friday.

  • The Washington Post
  • The New York Times
  • Cable News Network, Inc. (CNN)
  • The Guardian
  • National Public Radio
  • TMZ
  • Atlantic Media Inc.
  • Capitol Hill Publishing Corp.
  • Diocese of Covington
  • Diocese of Lexington
  • Archdiocese of Louisville
  • Diocese of Baltimore
  • Ana Cabrera
  • Sara Sidner
  • Erin Burnett
  • S.E. Cupp
  • Elliot C. McLaughlin
  • Amanda Watts
  • Emanuella Grinberg
  • Michelle Boorstein
  • Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
  • Antonio Olivo
  • Joe Heim
  • Michael E. Miller
  • Eli Rosenberg
  • Isaac Stanley-Becker
  • Kristine Phillips
  • Sarah Mervosh
  • Emily S. Rueb
  • Maggie Haberman
  • David Brooks
  • Shannon Doyne
  • Kurt Eichenwald
  • Andrea Mitchell
  • Savannah Guthrie
  • Joy Reid
  • Chuck Todd
  • Noah Berlatsky
  • Elisha Fieldstadt
  • Eun Kyung Kim
  • HBO
  • Bill Maher
  • Warner Media
  • Conde Nast
  • GQ
  • Heavy.com
  • The Hill
  • The Atlantic
  • Bustle.com
  • Ilhan Omar
  • Elizabeth Warren
  • Kathy Griffin
  • Alyssa Milano
  • Jim Carrey

“They know they crossed the line,” McMurtry said. “Do they want 12 people in Kentucky to decide their fate? I don’t think so.”

He added that those on the list will “raise legal defenses and challenges that we’ll have to overcome, but that’s the way it goes.”

The letters instruct the organizations and individuals not to destroy any documents in connection with the case, the attorney said. For example, the documents drafts of articles or emails among staff discussing the story.

McMurtry said both he and Wood have sent out slightly different versions of the letter, but that there are no substantive difference between the two letters.

After a review, the lawyers “concluded we have a good faith basis to sue” certain organizations, McMurtry said. However, he said not all the organizations who were sent letters will necessarily be sued. He added that this process will not be over quickly. McMurtry also added his clients will also be demanding retractions and apologies in addition to possible litigation.

“We want to change the conversation. We don’t want this to happen again,” McMurtry said. “We want to teach people a lesson.” He went on to say that the media can’t report as fact things that aren’t true. “There was a rush by the media to believe what it wanted to believe versus what actually happened,” McMurtry said

The students were in Washington D.C. for the annual March For Life event.

Phillips, the Native American elder, said he approached the students to defuse a tense exchange between them and a group of Black Hebrew Israelites, a reported hate group. Phillips has said he felt intimidated by the students.

The first short clip that caught the attention of people on social media prompted calls of racism. Extended footage surfaced in the days after the event, showing the reported hate group lobbing insults at the students.

McMurtry said the next steps for lawyers will likely involve conversations and negotiations with the legal teams of organizations, and then possibly filing lawsuits.

“For the mob to just go tear apart a 16-year-old boy is inexcusable,” McMurtry said. “He’ll never be able to get away from this.”

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