Wednesday, October 08, 2008, 9:02 AM

Attorney Statement To Potential Witness Immune From Suit

In Jones v. Coward, the COA held that at attorney's statements made to potential witnesses, whether before or during trial, whether in or out of court, are privileged and cannot be the basis of a slander suit so long as they are not palpably irrelevant to a suit the attorney is working on.

In Jones, the defendant lawyer, working on a case in which plaintiff Jones was a defendant, approached a potential witness in the case against Jones while the potential witness was eating breakfast in a public place. The lawyer asked or told the potential witness about Jones' being "run out of town for drugs." Jones sued for slander, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The defendant got the claims dismissed, and Jones appealed.

The COA affirmed the dismissal and held that "an attorney's statement or question to a potential witness regarding a suit in which that attorney is involved, whether preliminary to trial, or at trial, is privileged and immune from civil action for defamation, provided the statement or question is not so palpably irrelevant to the subject matter of the controversy that no reasonable man can doubt its irrelevancy or impropriety ..."

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