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Ex-planning official wins defamation suit

Judgment totals $30K in damages

POSTED: September 20, 2012 12:32 a.m.
 

A judge has ordered a local blogger to pay $30,000 in damages to a former member of the Forsyth County planning board who he defamed in an online community forum.

According to the order filed Monday by visiting Senior Superior Court Judge Robert Struble, David Milum must pay Matt Murphy $5,000 in compensatory damages and $25,000 in punitive damages.

Murphy resigned from the board in April due to increased work demands.

Milum, who owned an online community forum at the time, posted his accounts of incidents that allegedly occurred during an April 2011 planning board meeting and in May outside his home.

The first incident stated that Murphy threatened a fellow planning board member “with a physical altercation while using foul language,” according to the complaint.

The May post “said or implied that plaintiff Murphy engaged in public drunkenness” and participated in obscene behavior in a truck outside Milum’s home, the complaint states.

According to the initial complaint, Murphy filed suit in October after Milum would not retract the statements.

In August, Struble granted Murphy’s motion for default judgment after “Milum did not file an answer or responsive pleadings to the complaints at any time in the following seven months [after he was summoned in December],” according to the order.

Once default judgment is approved, the original complaint becomes the basis for the case.

According to that complaint, “Milum maliciously published each of the aforesaid false, libelous and defamatory statements about plaintiff Murphy knowing said statements were all false.”

One of the posts has since been removed from the online community forum, which Milum later sold to Nydia Tisdale.

Murphy’s attorney, Myles Eastwood, said Milum was not required by the court to remove the statements.

Eastwood said he was pleased with the resolution and ready to collect the damages, which were determined by the judge.

“It’s up to Mr. Milum to decide how he’s going to pay,” Eastwood said.

The last sentence of the final order from Struble states that Milum testified that he had recently transferred his property to his wife.

“The court will defer ruling on the validity of such transfers until and in the event that plaintiff brings a separate action on such matter,” the order states.

Milum said Tuesday that he moved his property to his wife’s name to plan for the future due to his poor health.

The self-styled political activist plans to appeal the ruling.

“I didn’t say anything bad about Matt Murphy,” Milum said. “They turned something I did say in that article that had nothing to do with Matthew Murphy, but they linked it. They had no right to link it. I put on my private thoughts on there of what I thought was happening at the time.”

Milum said he never got requests to remove the statements from the Web site until six months after posting them, which he said coincided with his research into Commissioner Patrick Bell, who appointed Murphy to the planning board.

Milum also said he did not receive notice of the hearing on the motion for default judgment in July.

“It was just a bunch of fabrications,” he said of several statements made by Murphy and his attorney, Myles Eastwood. “They know they can get by with it in Forsyth County courts. They’re not going to ever rule in my favor.”

He said his looking into the practices of local officials has caused judges to be biased against him.

Milum is no stranger to suits originating from his blog posts.

A 2006 Forsyth County Superior Court ruling ordered Milum to pay $50,000 to local attorney Rafe Banks III.

A jury found Milum had libeled Banks on his Web site in 2004 by accusing the lawyer of delivering bribes for drug dealers to judges.

According to the Media Law Center, Milum was the first blogger in the country to lose a libel suit, a case that received national attention.

In October 2007, a Superior Court jury ruled against Milum for malice and ordered him to pay former Forsyth County employee Joseph Gooden $100,000 in damages and $50,000 for attorney’s fees.

The lawsuit was filed against Milum in 2005 for alleging on a Web site that Gooden accepted bribes and extorted money from county vendors.

In 2009, a Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputy launched a suit over comments on the site posted by Milum and two others that alleged he was the father of a young child.

The judge proclaimed the three defendants in that case to be in default in August 2011.

A damages hearing was set for June 18, but was postponed after Milum had a medical emergency in the lobby of the courthouse.

A date has not been rescheduled.

 

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