In divorce and child custody proceedings that drag on, it is not uncommon for parties to complain about attorneys fees. In 2008, Lisa Payne-Naeger was the respondent in a divorce action and requested that the court appoint a Guardian ad Litem (GAL). In March 2008, the court appointed Benicia Baker-Livorsi as the GAL. Baker-Livorsi acted as the GAL until the judgment of dissolution was entered in January 2010. After the divorce was finalized, Payne-Naeger was interviewed by reporter Allison Retka of Missouri Lawyers Weekly (MLW) regarding the topic of GALs in Missouri. During the interview, Payne-Naeger stated that Baker-Livorsi earned $80,000 as the GAL in that state case. According to Courthouse News Service, Retka subsequently published the article in MLW, stating the $80,000 GAL fee. Retka also allegedly forwarded the article to ParentAdvocates.org., which republished the story with the caption “JUDICIAL CORRUPTION, Family Court Corruption: Guardian Ad Litem in Missouri.”
The problem, however, was that Baker-Livorsi never earned $80,000 for the GAL work, but rather, only $10,084. Following publication of the MLW story, Baker-Livorsi reportedly receiving inquires from judges and other practioners regarding the $80,000 GAL fee. Baker-Livorsi then contacted Retka to issue a printed retraction regarding the GAL fee. Although a small retraction was later published in MLW, Baker-Livorsi sued Payne-Naeger and Retka for libel and sued MLW for negligently publishing the libelous content. Payne-Naeger claimed that the retraction in MLW was pointless because of the republished ParentAdvocates.org content “will forever be there because of ‘Google’”.
In the complaint, Baker-Livorsi further alleges that she suffered damage to her reputation, endured ridicule and contempt, and lost business due to the MLW story. She alleges that the all of the defendants acted with deliberate indifference, entitling her to punitive damages. The complaint seeks $500,000 in compensatory damages plus punitive damages in the libel count against Payne-Naeger and Retka as well as $500,00 in compensatory plus punitive damages against MLW on the negligence count.
On a final note, a recent Examiner.com article alleges that Retka called Baker-Livorsi before publishing the MLW article, but that Baker-Livorsi failed to either confirm or deny the GAL fee before press time. Even so, a reporter still has a duty to fact check before publishing an article, so it remains to be seen whether Retka and MLW should have looked to other sources to confirm the attorneys fees.