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A divorcing couple's slandering online reviews helped an attorney win $350,000 in damages

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If you’re a divorcing couple, a Florida court ruling showed that it’s not a good idea to turn to the Internet to write scathing reviews about your divorce attorney, reports Ars Technica.

In this case, the divorcing couple is Copia Blake and Peter Birzon, the former of which hired Ann-Marie Giustibelli for the divorce proceedings. Interestingly, the divorcing couple took to Yelp and online legal site Avvo to complain about Giustibelli’s alleged inflation of lawyer fees.

According to one such online review, “[Giustibelli] misrepresented her fees with regards to the contract I initially signed. The contract she submitted to the courts for her fees were 4 times her original quote and pages of the original had been exchanged to support her claims, only the signature page was the same. Shame on me that I did not have an original copy, but like an idiot…I trusted my lawyer.”

In the original trial, Blake and Birzon admitted that they lied about Giustibelli jacking up her fees, with the judge awarding the attorney $350,000 in punitive damages. Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld the award, arguing against the divorcing couple’s First Amendment defense that just because it’s the Internet doesn’t mean you have the ability to say whatever you want on it, particularly if what you say is seen as slander and defamatory rather than factual statements.

Before handing down its decision, however, the appellate panel noted that Blake and Birzon requested their appeal to be dropped. The court decided against it, however, believing that “this issue merits discussion as it presents a scenario that will likely recur, and the public will benefit from an opinion on the matter.”

This isn’t the first time a review on Yelp became the center of a trial, however. Back in 2013, a Virginia court ruled that a negative review posted by an unhappy customer be left unaltered and online, a ruling that was heralded as a win for free speech on the Internet.

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