Judge throws out $14 million Internet libel case

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by DAVID SCHECHTER

Bio | Email | Follow: @davidschechter

WFAA

Posted on June 13, 2012 at 5:08 PM

Updated Thursday, Jul 19 at 1:13 PM

It was a jaw-dropping verdict: $14 million for posting libel on the Internet.

Some said it was the largest award of its kind.

Then the judge just did something equally surprising — she threw out the jury's decision.

Mark and Rhonda Lesher said their reputations were damaged by hateful messages on an Internet message board.

The case originated when the Leshers were accused — and acquitted — of sexual assault. They alleged that blog posts smearing them were written, in part, by Jerry Coyle, who was the alleged victim’s husband.

In the end, the judge determined that the Leshers could not prove the people they were suing were the ones who posted the libelous messages.

Charlie Doescher, one of the plaintiffs, said nothing about the lawsuit filed against him ever made sense.

"The first time I was served the papers was the first time I'd ever heard the name,” he said.

But it did make sense to the jury, which sided with the Leshers by awarding a huge verdict, and against Doescher and his boss, Jerry Coyle, who owns the Apache Auto Salvage lot in Kennedale.

"For the jury to come back with that kind of reward was shocking. I mean, really shocking,” Doescher said. "So, there had to be some very compelling evidence — or lack of evidence — for her to make that decision, I would think.”

Peter Vogel practices Internet law in Dallas with the firm of Gardere Wynne Sewell. He said even if the judge overturned the jury, the Lesher case is just the beginning — not the end — of online libel cases.

"I think that this Lesher case if probably a great indicator that we're going to see more cases like this where people will challenge these anonymous postings that are libelous, and I think that's the right thing to happen,” Vogel said.

The Leshers were not available for comment on Wednesday.

E-mail dschechter@wfaa.com

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