Can a Bar Grievance Provide Relief Against a Law Blogger When Defamation Law Will Not?

by Paul Alan Levy

Dr. Rosalind Griffin, a Michigan psychiatrist who apparently derives a significant part of her income by testifying as a medical expert for parties defending against tort claims, but also serves as a member of the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board — the adjudicatory arm of the Attorney Grievance Commission — has initiated a bar grievance that ought to be of grave concern to law bloggers everywhere. The fact that the prosecutorial arm of the Grievance Commission has given every evidence of being willing to serve as Griffin’s cat’s paw in pursuing her critic is not encouraging.

The case involves a Michigan lawyer, Steven Gursten, who specializes in representing accident victims. On November 13, 2014, he published a blog post excoriating Griffin personally (he calls her one of the “notorious” Michigan doctors who aids the defense) and decrying her testimony in one of his cases (he calls it a “hatchet job” and asks readers to decide whether she perjured herself, based on several detailed examples from transcripts of her testimony and the case file). Her complaint to the Grievance Commission, dated November 19, 2015, singles out the words quoted above (much of which strikes me as non-actionable rhetoric and as opinion based on disclosed facts). Griffin also quotes out of context a general statement on the blog that “many thousands of innocent and seriously hurt people lose everything because of so-called ‘independent medical exams,’ such as this example by Michigan psychiatrist Dr. Rosalind Griffin;” her grievance characterizes the blog as accusing her of having “intentionally set out to cause ‘seriously hurt people [to] lose everything.’” More generally, her complaint alleges that Gursten’s “one-sided and inaccurate description . . . is defamatory and places me in a false light."

Griffin claims that the speech in the blog post is “ conduct [that] involves dishonesty and misrepresentations which reflect adversely on his honest, trustworthiness and fitness as a lawyer within the meaning of MRPC 8.4,” and also that it is “prejudicial to the administration of justice” in that it portrays the legal system in a bad light. She goes on to complain that the blog post “is the first item returned when someone uses the Google search engine on my name.” The remedy requested is that Gursten “be required to delete his outrageous posting and remove the link to Google results for my name.” (This forensic psychiatrist may be very good at what she does, but plainly she does not understand that private parties do not get to remove links from Google search results.)