LOS ANGELES — Courtney Love, known for her brash behavior and four-letter words, won a landmark Twitter libel case Friday in which a Los Angeles jury determined the musician did not defame her former attorney in a tweet.
Wearing a black dress, a cream cardigan and pearls, Love was ecstatic outside the courthouse and kissed and hugged her attorneys.
“It was a really great learning experience,” she said, adding that she had avoided Twitter during the trial out of respect for the case.
The civil suit seeking $8 million was filed by Rhonda Holmes, who had once acted as Love’s fraud-litigation attorney.
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The case was billed as the first “Twibel” trial in which Twitter and libel law intersected, but it was tried by the same rules as traditional defamation cases. Jurors determined that Love’s tweet included false information, but the musician didn’t know it wasn’t true.
The singer-actress filed her own complaint against Holmes, claiming legal malpractice.
Holmes had been hired in December 2008 to look into missing funds from the estate of Kurt Cobain, Love’s late husband.
Holmes and Love parted ways after less than six months. The attorney alleged that the relationship had been contingent on Love refraining from substance abuse, a stipulation that eventually angered the singer. The attorney also said that Love became a difficult client and wouldn’t return calls. She accused the Golden Globe-nominated actress of taking to Twitter as an act of vengeance.
The lawyer contended during the trial that she was fired by Love and that the tweet and other statements the singer made against her have caused her substantial damage.
A June 2010 tweet was at the center of the case:
“@noozjunkie I was … devastated when Rhonda J Holmes Esq of San Diego was bought off @fairnewsspears perhaps you can get a quote,” Love tweeted under @CourtneyLoveUK.
But the lead singer of Hole has maintained that she believed she was sending a direct message, not a tweet visible to the public. She quickly erased it.
“Twas the tweet in the forest that no one saw, with the exception of one or two people,” Love said in court documents. “That is, of course, before and until Holmes filed this lawsuit and published the tweet to the public at large, seeking to recover money from me.”
The Twitter handle @noozjunkie belongs to someone who goes by the name Ethan V. and calls himself an “infoseeker” and journalist. Carmela Kelly, who no longer uses @fairnewsspears, has a website in which she refers to herself as an award-winning investigative reporter based in Phoenix.
It’s not the first time someone has filed suit against Love for her tweets. In 2009, Dawn Simorangkir accused the celebrity of publishing defamatory statements under the handle @courtneylover79. The two met through the website Etsy, where the aspiring fashion designer known as Boudoir Queen sold clothes.
Simorangkir said that things went sour when she attempted to collect payment and that Love retaliated through vicious tweets and comments on Etsy. Love was accused of saying that Simorangkir dealt cocaine and may have been a prostitute. The case was settled out of court.
Love’s most recent battle is the first Twitter libel case to go to trial. A jury of six men and six women listened to eight days of testimony and statements and then deliberated for three hours. They determined that although Love’s statement had a natural tendency to injure Holmes’ business, they did not believe she knew the statement was false.
One juror said that although the decision was swift, it was not without debate. “Everybody took it very seriously,” said Joseph Lee, 45, an accountant. “We were arguing and trying to follow the instructions.”
Holmes’ attorney, Mitchell Langberg, said he was disappointed in the verdict but that his client was vindicated.
“Really what this case was about was Rhonda Holmes getting her reputation back,” Langberg said, referring to the fact that the jury determined Love’s tweet to be untrue.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “her biggest asset in life is her reputation and that she got back today.”
John Lawrence, an attorney for Love, said his client deserved a lot of credit for taking the stand and letting it be known she wouldn’t be used as “a slot machine.”
“I’m gratified that the jury found that Mrs. Cobain did not act recklessly, that she had in her mind some justification for doing what she did,” he said.
Love said outside court that she had worried that jurors would have difficulty relating to her and admitted that she was “controversial.”
She said she has since been more careful about what and how she posts. “I’ve been tweeting nicely for like three years now,” said Love, whose handle is now @courtney.
An hour later, she resurfaced on Twitter: “I can’t thank you enough Dongell Lawrence Finney LLP, the most incredible law firm on the planet. We won this epic battle.”
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.