Slapping a Bully

Robert Murray owns Murray Energy Coal Corp. And he is a big bully. Which is bad enough, I suppose, but Murray is the kind of bully who uses the court system to throw his considerable weight around.

And like most bullies, while Murray’s skull is thick, his skin is thin. Which accounts no doubt for this litany of libel lawsuits he’s filed over the years. I’ll keep my readers posted if I’m next.

But most recently, Mr. Murray may have gone too far. Because in his most recent temper tantrum/libel suit, an Ohio appellate court not only tossed the meritless case, it called for the Ohio legislature to pass legislation that would put the brakes on Murray’s tactics.

Here’s a quick recap of the case. The day after President Obama’s 2012 re-election Murray Energy fired 158 employees. In a personal “prayer” delivered to employees the day of the firings, Mr. Murray said: “Lord, please forgive me and anyone with me in the Murray Energy Corp. for decisions we are now forced to make to preserve the very existence of any of the enterprises that you have helped us build.”  (Is it just me or does Murray’s prayer sound a little like this one?)

An organization called “Patriots for Change” organized a protest in front of Murray Energy’s Chagrin Falls headquarters in December of 2012. Protestors accused Murray of being a bully, and held up signs that included statements such as “Mr. Murray stop intimidating your coal mining employees.”

Chagrin Valley Times reporter Sali McSherry reported on the protest, quoting several demonstrators, but also quoting verbatim Murray’s official statement calling Patriots for Change a “militant unionist labor group.”

The Valley Times also published an editorial written by Editor Emeritus David Lange taking Mr. Murray and Murray Energy to task for its spotty safety record and challenging the truth of certain statements Mr. Murray had made regarding his alleged lack of knowledge of a 2007 partial mine collapse.

The Valley Times editorial cartoonist Ron Hill chimed in with a cartoon depicting a snowman made of lumps of coal, holding a sack of money in each hand.  The cartoon also featured lyrics to the tune of “Frosty the Snowman” that included “Murray the coal-man … meant to hoard away his pay.”

In response, Murray and his affiliated companies did what any person who believes in less government would do. They asked a branch of the government to help them out. Mr. Murray apparently believes in the motto about foolish consistency being the hobgoblin of small minds. Either that or he’s a also a hypocrite.

In any event, Murray and his companies sued Patriots for Change, Chagrin Valley Publishing Co., Sali McSherry, David Lange, Ron Hill and assorted others for libel and false light invasion of privacy. The trial court granted summary judgment in defendants’ favor on all claims, and the appellate court affirmed.

Summary judgment means Murray’s suit had no legal merit. The court threw it out without wasting a jury’s time. And the court of appeals validated that decision.

But of course, the newspaper, the reporter and the protestors had to hire lawyers, take time out of their work days and otherwise endure a civil lawsuit due to the whims of this moron. All of which prompted the appellate court to add this color commentary to its decision:

This case illustrates the need for Ohio to join the majority of states in this country that have enacted statutes that provide for quick relief from suits aimed at chilling protected speech.  … The fact that the Chagrin Valley Times website has been scrubbed of all mention of Murray or this protect is an example of the chilling effects this has.  … Many states provide that plaintiffs pay the attorney fees of successful defendants and for abbreviated disposition of cases. In this era of decentralized journalism where the internet has empowered individuals with broad reach, society must balance competing privacy interests with freedom of speech. Given Ohio’s particularly strong desire to protect individual speech, as embodied in its Constitution, Ohio should adopt an anti-SLAPP statute to discourage punitive litigation designed to chill constitutionally protected speech.”

Good advice from Ohio’s judicial branch.  Let’s hope the legislative branch pays attention.