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Brown v. Times-Picayune, L.L.C.

Court of Appeal of Louisiana, First Circuit

November 3, 2014

CLAIBORNE W. BROWN
v.
THE TIMES-PICAYUNE, L.L.C. AND CLAIRE GALOFARO

ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-SECOND JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT. NUMBER 2013-11983, DIVISION " A," PARISH OF ST. TAMMANY, STATE OF LOUISIANA. HONORABLE RAYMOND S. CHILDRESS, JUDGE.

Claiborne W. Brown, Covington, Louisiana, Plaintiff-Appellant, In Proper Person.

Loretta G. Mince, Alysson L. Mills, New Orleans, Louisiana, Counsel for Defendants-Appellees, The Times-Picayune, L.L.C. and Claire Galofaro.

BEFORE: KUHN, PETTIGREW, AND WELCH, JJ.

OPINION

Page 666

[2014 0160 La.App. 1 Cir. 2] KUHN, J.

Plaintiff-appellant, Claiborne W. Brown, appeals from a summary judgment dismissing his defamation suit, which he filed as a result of a headline and article written by defendant-appellee, Claire Galofaro, and published in the newspaper owned by defendant-appellee, The Times-Picayune, L.L.C. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand this matter.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In November 2010, plaintiff was a criminal defense attorney practicing in Covington, Louisiana. At that time, he agreed to act as local co-counsel, together with K. James Phillips, an attorney licensed in Tennessee, in representing Joshua T. Cumberland, who was charged with aggravated rape of his two minor stepchildren.[1] According to plaintiff's petition, he advised Mr. Phillips that he had never handled an aggravated rape case involving a juvenile, and they agreed that plaintiff would proceed " under the active supervision of Mr. Phillips."

After Mr. Cumberland's trial date was set for June 11, 2012, plaintiff advised the district attorney's office by letter dated April 12, 2012, that Mr. Phillips would be unable to attend trial on that date. On June 1, 2012, plaintiff filed a motion to continue the trial based on Mr. Phillips' inability to be present at trial due to a scheduling conflict, which the trial court denied.

On the first day of trial, plaintiff again moved for a continuance due to his inability to secure the presence of Mrs. Cumberland, the victims' mother, as a witness, as well as the lack of time for him to review adequately school records and extensive Office of Child Services records that he had only been granted access to days earlier. The trial court, noting that plaintiff had not followed the [2014 0160 La.App. 1 Cir. 3] proper procedure for subpoenaing an out-of-state witness, denied the motion for continuance.

On the second day of trial, plaintiff moved for a mistrial on the grounds that he was not adequately experienced to handle the trial alone and that his representation of Mr. Cumberland was ineffective. He asserted that it had been his understanding with Mr. Phillips that plaintiff's role would only be to do the " legwork" in this matter because Mr. Phillips was the expert in this particular type of criminal case, which involved potential life sentences. Due to his co-counsel's absence, plaintiff felt that he was " winging it." Essentially, plaintiff alleged that he was incapable of providing Mr. Cumberland with an effective defense and, therefore, he refused to participate further in the trial. He advised the trial court that he was willing to accept whatever punitive measures the court felt were necessary.

When the trial court asked plaintiff if there was any reason ...


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