A Texas District Court judge ruled that a former intern defamed a bat sanctuary nonprofit and its president, and awarded the organization $6.1 million in damages.
After a four-day trial, Judge William Brigham found that Mary Cummins had committed defamation against Bat World Sanctuary president Amanda Lollar and breached her internship contract with the organization. She was ordered to pay $3.0 million in punitive damages, $10,000 for her breach of contract, and $176,000 in attorney’s fees.
Cummins was accepted for an internship at the Mineral Wells, Texas, organization in 2010, but left early after becoming dissatisfied with the program. Lollar and her attorneys then claim she went back to her home in California posted allegations of animal cruelty against her and the organization on the Internet.
“This judgment sends a powerful message to cyber-stalkers and others who use the Internet to harass people or to harm their reputations,” said Randy Turner, Lollar’s attorney. “Innocent victims like Amanda Lollar often don’t have the resources, expertise, or ability to defend themselves against such vicious Internet attacks. Hopefully this judgment will make someone think twice before engaging in an Internet smear campaign.”
Among many allegations, Cummins accused Lollar of performing surgeries on bats without anesthesia, possessing and distributing controlled substances without a license, and throwing dead bats in the trash. Along with posting these complaints on the Internet, she also filed numerous complaints with animal cruelty organizations, including a foundation that had been funding Bat World Sanctuary but stopped doing so after receiving the complaints. Every agency that Cummins filed complaints with eventually found them to be without merit after further investigation.
“I would like to thank everyone who stood by us during this ordeal and never, ever lost faith in us,” Lollar said via a statement. “Mr. Turner and his paralegal, Kelly Bozeman, worked tirelessly for us and we couldn’t have won without them. I will be forever grateful.”
Cummins is the president of Animal Advocates, a nonprofit based in Los Angeles, Calif. that works to prevent cruelty to animals. She plans to appeal the ruling, claiming a conflict of interest.
“On one hand I’m shocked because Plaintiffs did not show the essential elements for a claim of defamation or breach of contract. On the other hand I’m not really that shocked. Before one hearing Plaintiffs’ attorney Randy Turner of Bailey & Galyen told me that he’s known this Judge for years. He insinuated that the Judge will automatically rule in his favor, and it appears that he has. I believe there was a conflict of interest and a new trial by a new Judge is in order.”
On her website, animaladvocates.us, Cummins posted information documenting other complaints made against Lollar. Judge Brigham ordered her to remove that information, a ruling that she also plans to challenge on the basis of the Freedom of Information Act.