Actor James Woods, who sued an unknown Twitter user for $10 million last summer, is one step closer to unmasking that user’s identity.
Last Monday, Judge Mel Recana of the Los Angeles County Superior Court denied the defendant’s Special Motion to Strike, allowing Woods to go forward with his case against defendant John Doe — Twitter user “Abe List” (@AbeListed).
In July 2015, the defendant tweeted, in reply to a Woods tweet, “cocaine addict James Woods still sniffing and spouting.” Woods soon after filed a defamation lawsuit.
Earlier this month, the Court issued a tentative order indicating that it would grant the unidentified defendant’s Special Motion to Strike (and ultimately dismiss Woods’ lawsuit). However, Judge Recana—after hearing oral arguments and reconsidering the parties’ positions, including consideration of written testimony from a USC linguistics professor—decided that people would have read Abe List’s tweet as a statement of fact (that Mr. Woods was actually a cocaine addict).
Woods can now proceed with discovery and will likely be able to identify the person behind the Twitter handle @AbeListed. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the defendant had previously identified himself on Twitter as working in private equity in Los Angeles and purported to be a Harvard graduate.
Abe List’s tweets are now protected and his or her Twitter bio currently reads: “Preserving this account but making it inaccessible because of vindictive legal bullying & documented concerns about dangerous angry threats.” It also states that he or she is acting on the advice of counsel, hyperlinking to http://brownwhitelaw.com.
On Tuesday, Feb. 9, an attorney for Abe List, Lisa Bloom, released a statement in which she defended her client’s right to free speech on Twitter. Bloom also ridiculed Woods’ own behavior on Twitter, saying “Mr. Woods dishes it out, but he can’t take it.” Bloom specifically indicated that the actor regularly insults other Twitter users, resorts to unflattering name-calling, and supposedly has “mockingly accused” a few others on Twitter of using cocaine themselves.
“Twitter is a wide open forum where wisecracks are the norm,” Bloom added. “It exists not only for the rich and powerful to lambast others, but for all users to express themselves, often colorfully, without fear of being dragged into expensive, stressful litigation. It is frightening to be sued for $10 million by Mr. Woods, but Mr. Doe is fighting back.”
In their pleadings and arguments, Bloom and co-counsel contended that their client’s “cocaine addict” tweet about Woods was not a statement of fact, but rather hyperbole. They further argued that it was the type of exaggerated statement regularly communicated by people on Twitter.
As this matter continues and Woods pursues his defamation claim against the author of the allegedly defamatory tweet, the actor will not only need to prove the tweet’s falsity, but also—among other things—that Abe List acted with actual malice.
In other words, as a public figure, Woods must prove that that the currently pseudonymous defendant knew his or her statement about the actor being a “cocaine addict” was false or acted with reckless disregard for the statement’s truth or falsity.
Just over two years ago, a Twitter case involving musician Courtney Love went to trial in California. Unlike Woods, Love was the defendant in the matter.