Florida justices split on lawyer defamation issue

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A sharply divided Florida Supreme Court says lawyers are not entitled to an absolute shield against defamation lawsuits for out-of-court comments made in connection with legal cases.

A 4-3 majority ruled Thursday that lawyers can be sued for defamation but that plaintiffs must prove their comments expressed malice. The decision also applies to out-of-court comments made by judges, parties and witnesses related to pending cases.

The opinion reverses two lower courts and reinstates a defamation action against attorney Arthur Rodgers Traynor in a Broward County case. A boat dealer had accused a competitor of making defamatory statements that the plaintiff had supplied prostitutes to a company that did business with the plaintiff.

The defendant dealer hired Traynor. The plaintiff then accused Traynor of making similar defamatory statements to potential witnesses.

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